gendered sexualised relations in Israel

by tobybee

I can’t remember exactly what the conversation was that prompted this comment, but it was on a rooftop in Tel Aviv in mid-2007, with a group of women (all of us were single), and I guess we were talking about the difficulties and joys of meeting prospective lovers and partners. I also don’t remember the comment I made that proceeded this question, but one of the women there – a friend of a friend – asked me if I wanted to hook-up with someone while I was there so that I had a reason to stay. I was affronted and annoyed by the question; as I said to her, if I wanted to stay, I’d do so for me, not because there was some guy asking me to. Not because, I guess, a heterosexual demand had been made on me; as though I only gained a politics when brought into heteronormativity; as though I wasn’t capable of being an active agent in deciding where I live: a man was required to summon me into place. I was the feminised diaspora jew, both materially and discursively.

Every so often I’m reminded of that moment.

A few weeks ago I heard Amos Oz speak at the Wheeler Center in Melbourne. He was, of course, the liberal optimistic and oblivious Zionist that he always is. There was a lot in there to dissect (and maybe (hopefully!) one day soon I’ll write a longer post), but I want to focus in particular on a comment that he made at the end. In talking about why there needs to be two separate states, one Palestinian and one Israeli, and why one state would never work, he said something about how we would never ask a man and a woman who didn’t like each other to jump into a honeymoon bed together. He repeated this metaphor a couple of times – that of the impossibilities of Palestinians and Israelis being in the “honeymoon bed” together. Again, we see this summoning into heterosexuality. There is an establishment of heteronormative relations as the only possible way for us to understand the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the understanding (indeed, there’s a certain obviousness to Oz’s comment) that sexual relations between the two groups would be (and is) abject. There is a performative naturalising of the dominance of heterosexual sex, wherein such sex works to reproduce the healthy nation, on both individual and social levels. One state can’t work because this would involve Israelis and Palestinians having sex. It’s (almost) as simple as that.

I think these two moments are demonstrative of the intertwining of nationalism and heteronormativity, and the preeminence that is given to the heterosexual and patriarchal order of things. Israeli nationalism, a nationalism which disavows the diaspora and disavows the reproduction of Jewishness through anything other than heterosexual reproduction, is buttressed by the repeated iterations of a racialised heteronorm.