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Gay Poet Persecuted in Iran Looks For New Home In Israel

By  Joshua Yasmeh

Three months ago Israel granted a temporary visa to Iranian poet Payam Feilli. It was then that Feilli’s personal hell came to an end. After decades of persecution, the poet finally made it to only place he could ever imagine living outside of his native Iran.

Feilli, who is openly gay, fled to Turkey in 2014 after getting blacklisted and detained by Iran’s morality militia. Today Feilli is safely ensconced in the Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv where he can publish his writings without the threat of censorship or intimidation.

Coming of age in Karaj (Iran’s fourth largest city) in the post-Islamic Revolution era, Feilli found life as a gay man in the mullah-run illiberal theocracy unbearable. Since 1979, Khameinite clerics masquerading as civic administrators have married Quranic mandates with state law, plaguing the country with puritanical Shiite religious morality. To this day, homosexuality is not just a cardinal sin, but a capital offense punishable by death or flogging.

In bold defiance of the regime, Feilli decided from an early age to write openly about his orientation. “Feili made no attempt to hide the sexual undertones in the writing that had so angered Iranian’s authorities,” notes The Daily Beast’s Nina Strochlic. “Feili had published I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit…Figs. Chapter one begins unsubtly: ‘I am twenty one. I am a homosexual. I like the afternoon sun.’”

With the iron fist of state law, the Islamic Republic’s moral ministers made Feilli pay a heavy price for his apparent insolence. Strochlic explains:

In 2011, he was arrested the first of three times. The first two he was detained by plainclothes agents for nearly a month, and the third lasted for 44 days. That last began in February 2014: He was at home alone when three bearded men forced their way into his house, wrapped him in tape, blindfolded him, and brought him to a garden where he was kept in a shipping container.

By the time Iranian authorities detained Feilli in the shipping container, the poet had been censored, harassed, and intimidated for years. It didn’t help that the poet had woven Jewish symbols into his writings, despite growing up in a Muslim family. The nail in the coffin however was Feilli’s outspoken veneration of Israel in a country that routinely sentenced its own citizens to death on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. Under the suspicion of espionage, Feilli was subjected to inhumane treatment during his 44-day extrajudicial detention. Strochlic details the obscene nature of his final detainment:

“What is your connection with Israel?” [Iranian authorities] demanded during interrogations. “How much are they paying you?” He was fed twice a day, but says he was subjected to psychological torture. They would strip him naked, take pictures, and insult him, calling him a faggot. These were the last days of his life, they said, and he believed them.

Traumatized by the horrors he had just experienced, Feilli finally decided to make the journey to Israel, where his civil rights as a gay man were sure to be protected. In eager anticipation of his freedom, Feilli even got a Star of David tattooed on his neck while waiting for his papers to come through in Turkey. Although the poet was offered an invitation to the United States, he chose Israel instead due to the nostalgic sensations it appeared to evoke. “His fascination with Israel began as a young man…” writes The New York Times’ Isabel Kerschner, “He then began reading the Torah, for its cultural and literary value.”

Today, Feilli resides in Tel Aviv where he has been warmly embraced by the sprawling LGBT community in the city. Israel “is exactly as I expected and even better and more beautiful” stated a gracious Feilli.

Feilli’s story is like many others in the Middle East. Escaping rampant persecution and Islamic religious zealotry, countless members of the LGBT community have fled for their lives only to find a home in Israel. Despite the clear democratic protections the State of Israel provides sexual, political, and religious refugees across the region, a morally bankrupt assembly of anti-Israel agitators half way across the world have accused the country of “pinkwashing.” From the privileged confines of the West, the illiberal Left, or anti-Israel Regressive Left, has sacrificed the core tenets of liberalism on the singular altar of “pro-Palestinian” advocacy. Indeed, even groups that purportedly represent the LGBT community in the United States have actually chastised Israel for protecting its sexual minorities. The moral contortions required to forsake your own cause under the auspices of “solidarity” with a cause you merely exoticize is an affront to human reason itself.

In an extensive essay for Quillete magazine, filmmaker and writer Jamie Palmer dismembers this profoundly obtuse “pinkwashing” argument, exposing the moral perversion of those that throw the cynically throw the kitchen sink at Israel:

As an aggressive piece of activist strategy, the ‘pinkwashing’ charge is shameless and shrewd. As a piece of moral reasoning, it is inane. For those intellectuals who contrive to revile Israel for the good it does as well as the bad, defense of Palestinian nationalism’s superior virtue has become the consideration before which all others must fall. But for ordinary, liberally-minded people whose capacity for clear thought has not been destroyed by spiteful masochism and obscurantist jargon, gay rights and the freedom to love openly as one chooses are precious for their own sake.

Self-professed liberals who criticize Israel for supporting sexual minorities are nothing more than masochists who wish to run a scorched-earth PR campaign against Israel even it means burning their own temples down in the process. The sheer hypocrisy of “pinkwashing” defies explanation; it’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Accordingly Palmer notes, “Israel is, after all, a self-critical parliamentary democracy with a vibrant free press, and an independent judiciary that safeguards the equality of all its citizens before the law. On the available evidence, what is an independent Palestinian State likely to look like?”

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