Antisemites did not invent homophobia. Sadly there is a long history of homophobia in the Jewish community, and I am not here to sugarcoat that. Though we’ve progressed enormously in the last century, there is still a long way to go.
That said, the Jewish community has generally progressed tremendously toward LGBTQ+ acceptance. A 2017 survey found that 79 percent of Israelis support same-sex marriage or civil unions. Among Israeli Jews, the numbers are especially encouraging. A 2014 survey found that 96 percent of all secular Israeli Jews support same-sex marriage. Even more encouraging, 82 percent of those who define themselves as “Modern Orthodox” or “traditional” Jews support same-sex marriage.
As of 2013, a Pew Research survey found that only 13 percent of American Jews disprove of homosexuality, while 82 percent approve. The approval numbers are likely much higher now. American Jews are exponentially more accepting of homosexuality than the general American population.
Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in the United States, has performed same-sex marriages since 2000. Conservative Judaism has performed same-sex marriage since 2012. While Orthodox movements do not recognize same-sex marriage, a small but growing number of Orthodox rabbis are now breaking rank and officiating such unions.
ANCIENT ISRAEL & HOMOSEXUALITY
Thanks to a few passages in the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible], namely in Leviticus, the general assumption is that Ancient Israel was homophobic. The reality is actually a lot more complicated.
There are extensive references that seem to suggest that King David (around 1000 BCE) was bisexual. Though conservative commentators insist that the relationship between David and Jonathan was purely platonic, others disagree. A couple of the verses that seem to suggest there might’ve been something more to the relationship include 1 Samuel 1:18 — “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” — and 2 Samuel 1:26 — “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Homosexuality was not only widely tolerated during the First Temple period (1047 BCE - 587 BCE) but even a part of ancient Canaanite ritual practice. In fact, men and women known as “sacred prostitutes” would reside in temples, where patrons would pay them for sex in exchange for deity worship. When 1 Kings 14:24 condemns the “sodomites in the land,” the condemnation likely refers to this practice.
Indeed, in 2 Deuteronomy 23:17, translated most often as “There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel,” a more accurate translation for “whore” and “sodomite” is female and male “sacred prostitutes.”
The two verses in Leviticus that ban male homosexual relations were likely written in exile, in Babylon. We don’t know why, exactly, this happened. Some speculate that it was in order to limit sexual contact between Jews and non-Jews, as the Babylonian exile-era Jews were very concerned not to assimilate into Babylonian society, in contrast to the exiled northern Israelites who had assimilated into the Assyrian Empire a couple centuries prior. However, we don’t know for sure.
Even more surprising is that, despite various seemingly anti-male homosexual sex passages in the Talmud, some rabbis practiced homosexuality openly during the Talmudic period, between the first and sixth centuries, albeit without anal sex.
JEWS & GAY RIGHTS
The gay rights movement has consisted of a disproportionate amount of Jews since its inception. In fact, the first organization in history to promote gay rights was the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, founded by Magnus Hirschfeld, who was both gay and Jewish.
Hirschfeld’s organization provided a number of medical services for LGBTQ+ folks, including contraceptive treatment, gynecological examinations, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, marital and sexual therapy, and much more. Most significantly, the organization pioneered gender-affirming surgeries, including one of the earliest sex-reassignment surgeries in 1931.
Hirschfeld was active politically as well. He attempted to repeal an 1871 German law that criminalized homosexuality; unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.
Harvey Milk, who was Jewish, was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Milk was a leader in the 1970s gay liberation movement until he was assassinated in 1978. Harvey Milk’s friend also created the rainbow pride flag at Milk’s urging.
Edie Windsor was a Jewish lesbian whose civil rights case landed in the Supreme Court and eventually led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.
These are just a few significant examples.
JEWS & THE TROPE OF "SEXUAL PERVERSION"
The trope of Jewish “sexual perversion” dates all the way back to at least the Middle Ages, when Europeans claimed that the Jewish practice of circumcision was actually pedophilic in nature.
Oftentimes, accusations of blood libel — false claims that Jews murdered Christian or Muslim children for ritual purposes — were accompanied by accusations of sexual perversion and childhood sexual abuse.
By the eighteenth century, European antisemitic propaganda linked Jews to bestiality and other forms of lust; they used the depictions of promiscuity in the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] as proof.
A century later, with the rise of scientific racism, the claims only worsened. Jews and Black folks, in particular, were depicted as racially inferior and sexually deviant. Jewish men were depicted as effeminate.
The most infamous antisemitic hoax of all time, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, accused Jews of dominating the “smut market,” with the goal of spreading sexual depravity in society.
These accusations had serious real life implications, as was the case with Leo Frank, whose lynching in 1915 led to the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Frank, who was Jewish, was depicted as “not built like other men,” a “sexual pervert,” and a “filthy and murderous Sodomite.”
As early as 1920, Hitler already accused Jews of “childhood sexual trafficking.” That year, he delivered a speech titled “Why Are We Antisemites?” in which he claimed: “To those Jews, love is nothing but a business by which they can earn money. At any time, they are ready to destroy the happiness of some marriage or other, if only thirty pieces of silver can be gotten out of it.”
In addition to depicting Jews as sexual deviants who defiled Aryan girls, the Nazis also linked homosexuality to Judaism.
For example, in 1930, the Völkischer Beobachter, a Nazi newspaper, stated the following:
“Among the many evil instincts that characterize the Jewish race, one that is especially pernicious has to do with sexual relationships. The Jews are forever trying to propagandize sexual relations between siblings, men and animals, and men and men. We National Socialists will soon unmask and condemn them by law. These efforts are nothing but vulgar, perverted crimes and we will punish them by banishment or hanging.”
Nazi propagandists spread the notion that homosexuality was rampant in Judaism and was a “disease” that needed to be eradicated. Throughout its course, the attitude of the Nazi regime toward homosexuality was that “homosexuality was wrong because it was a sick perversion of the Jews, while Jews were bad because they were sodomites and pedophiles just like homosexuals.”
Many fellow prisoners testified that out of all the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, gay Jews received the worst treatment.
It’s really important to understand this: the Nazi persecution of homosexual men was rooted in antisemitism.
The idea that Jews promote homosexuality as a destructive societal plot unfortunately did not die with the Nazis.
The claim that Jews promote a “gay agenda” is alive and well among white supremacist groups. The idea that Jews promote homosexuality is closely linked to the Great Replacement antisemitic conspiracy, which alleges that Jews are committing a “white genocide” and aim to replace white folks with Black and Brown folks, most notably, immigrants. The idea is that, through the promotion of homosexuality, Jews are attempting to bring down the white birth rate.
Antisemitic sentiment has been rampant at virtually all of the white supremacist protests of drag events. As antisemites did in the Middle Ages, Jews are once again linked to homosexuality and pedophilia. For instance, at a drag bingo event in Texas in September of last year, white supremacists protested with signs that made statements such as “LGBT is Talmud Jew shit.”
Various white supremacist publications have made the claim that Disney, who they purport is run by Jews, is promoting a “pedophilic gay agenda,” which is ironic given Walt Disney was a Nazi sympathizer.
Since the 1990s, the Westboro Baptist Church has linked Judaism to homosexuality and pedophilia.
NATION OF ISLAM
Similarly the Nation of Islam preaches the idea that Jews are to blame for homosexuality. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have designated NOI a hate group.
Louis Farrakhan, its leader, for example, blames Jews for “turning Black men gay.”
In his sermons, he has made statements such as:
“It's the wicked Jews the false Jews that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality. It's wicked Jews, false Jews that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic” in 2006.
“The Jewish people have said that Hollywood is theirs. Can any of you deny that they are the masters of Hollywood, where sex, lesbianism, homosexuality and violence are promoted?” in 2010.
“The Jewish media has normalized sexual degeneracy, profanity, and all kinds of sin” in 2013.
“The Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out: turning men into women, and women into men” and “Do you know that many of us who go to Hollywood seeking a chance, we have to submit to anal sex and all kids of debauchery, and they give you a little part? The couch where you have to sit, it’s called the ‘casting couch.’ That’s Jewish power” in 2018.
A number of Democrat politicians and celebrities are associated with Farrakhan, as well as a number of activists, such as Linda Sarsour.
THE MIDDLE EAST
In the early twentieth century, British soldiers stationed in the Middle East brought The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the region. Though antisemitism had long existed in the Arab world, The Protocols brought millennia-old antisemitic tropes to that part of the world.
Today, conspiracies linking Judaism to homosexuality are commonplace in the Arab world and the Middle East. This is compounded by the fact that antisemitism and homophobia are widespread in the region.
For example, in 2014, an Egyptian cabinet member claimed that “Zionists” promote atheism and homosexuality. In 2017, an Egyptian government official claimed that Israel is the “world capital of homosexuality.” In 2019, an Iraqi television report claimed that Jews were behind Iraqi NGOs, “promoting homosexuality.” In 2020, a former official of Hamas, the paramilitary organization that rules the Gaza Strip, stated that Jews “spread homosexuality.”
Just recently, Hamas condemned the Jerusalem Pride Parade as a “provocative march of perverts,” accusing participants of planning to “storm Al-Aqsa mosque,” an accusation that Palestinian nationalists have placed on Jews since the 1920s.
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