In Uganda, a Hate That We Must Confront

Opinion

By Ruth Messinger

Published December 30, 2009, issue of January 08, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that Judaism “takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest.” During the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the urgent need for American Jews to make this formulation real as I’ve turned my attention to a flagrant threat to human rights in Uganda.

Since October, the Ugandan parliament has been considering a so-called “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” The bill promotes hate and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in Uganda by strengthening and adding penalties against homosexuality. Among its many cruel provisions, the bill would subject to up to three years imprisonment any person who fails to report within 24 hours a sexual act between individuals of the same gender. (In response to local and international pressure, the Ugandan government recently agreed to remove execution and life-imprisonment from the bill’s punishments for LGBT people.)

The bill also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality,” a provision that would result in imprisonment for anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality or related activities” — effectively any organization that serves LGBT people. This measure would severely threaten HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts since a key population would be denied services.

In part, we have the American religious right to thank for fueling — both ideologically and financially — the anti-gay fervor that has led to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It’s no secret that there are strong and ever-growing ties between American and African political and religious conservatives. American right-wing zealots have lost the culture war in the United States and have taken their agenda wherever they can develop a base to condemn LGBT individuals and falsely assert that homosexuality can be cured. Many African leaders have adopted some of the American religious right’s most vicious homophobic rhetoric as their political platform and taken it farther than even many of their American allies might have imagined.

In recent months, American Jewish World Service has been listening to and working with our grantees in East Africa to strategically and effectively advance human rights in the face of growing insecurity and violence. AJWS has also joined with leading advocacy organizations in calling on the American government to swiftly condemn the bill.

The American government can — and must — use its leverage to oppose Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. But the vigor of our government’s opposition depends on us. We need to contact our congressional representatives and pressure them to take action.

In recent weeks, both liberal and conservative Christian groups and clergy from across the political spectrum — including, most recently, the Vatican — have spoken out against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Some Christian clergy who fiercely oppose efforts to expand gay rights still recognize that imprisoning or executing people for being gay — or penalizing those who support the LGBT community — is an egregious violation of human rights. These are powerful, public voices. Jewish voices must be counted among them.

Indeed, pursuing global justice depends on amplifying a collective Jewish voice to assert that every person — Jew and non-Jew, gay and straight alike — deserves to live a free and dignified life. We need not reach far back into the depths of history to find similar brutalities directed toward Jews, just for being Jewish.

It’s all too easy to ignore the injustices in the developing world. And of course, we must think critically and strategically about the consequences of American Jewish advocacy when people’s lives are at stake. But at the very least, I believe Heschel would have insisted that we confront our inclination to feel too disconnected to be outraged. At the end of the day, these human rights abuses are our problems, too.

Ruth Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.