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The Castro Theater, in the heart of San Francisco's eponymous district, is one of the most symbolic places in the struggle for gay liberation in America.  

It is therefore a terrible irony, and a sad day for progressives, that the name of one of the most homophobic leaders in the world - Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - was cheered by an audience in that very building.

The Castro Theater stands at the very heart of the Castro neighborhood, the first gay friendly neighborhood in America and still a symbolic center of community life.  The trademark marquee of the theater has been a symbol of the neighborhood for decades, featuring prominently in the movie Milk.  Recently it has hosted the premiers of Brokeback Mountain and Milk.  (Note: I am only a straight ally so take what I say with the appropriate grain of salt)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the most homophobic leaders in the world.  Under his regime, male homosexual acts are punishable by death.  In 2007, at Columbia University, he famously denied even the existence of gay people in Iran:

"We don't have homosexuals, like in your country. We don't have that in our country.  I don't know who told you that."

(Anyone who thinks there aren't gay Persians has obviously never been clubbing in the Bay Area)

It is indeed a sad day for the left when a crowd, in an iconic gay structure, in the middle of the most liberal big city in America, would not boo, but cheer at the mention of this person's name!

What could make people so inflamed as to commit such an offensive act? Israel.

See, the Castro Theater was hosting a screening, as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, of the movie Rachel, about Rachel Corrie, the young American activist tragically killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip in 2003.  

While this should be a testament to the open-mindedness of the organizers of the festival, cries of "censorship" went out because two festival sponsors objected (in the form of a letter).  The screening of the movie at the Castro was filled to capacity with 1400 people.

This movie having a one sided perspective (not necessarily a wrong one mind you), the organizers opted to have a short speech by a person with a mildly opposing perspective, Michael Harris of Voice for Israel.  

Harris' speech was booed and interrupted from the start by the hostile crowd, but the main problem occurs starting around 9:00 into the clip, where the crowd twice cheers at the mention of Ahmadinejad's name:

Let me repeat that.  A crowd, at a film festival, in the middle of the Castro, in the middle of San Francisco, cheered for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  This is, or should be, offensive and troubling to liberals and progressives everywhere.

And yet there have been several diaries in the past few days praising this event (1,2), as a touchstone or turning point in the debate over Israel.  I say this event was a disgrace.

To the people who oppose Israel, I say to you: this is what your rhetoric has wrought.  There are many legitimate differences to be had on the policies of Israel, the United States, and any other nation.  But you have allowed your movement and rhetoric to become extreme and blind, to the point where your supporters will cheer one of the most illiberal figures in the world, in the epicenter of one of the most liberal places in our country.

Think about where your movement is going.  On this site most people want a better future for the Palestinians, we just disagree how to get there and how much Israel's needs should matter.  I know you are frustrated with the lack of traction your issue gets in mainstream discourse (believe me, I've been there), but please take a minute to look inward.

On this site we regularly, and rightly, call on the Republican leaders to disavow the crazies in their ranks - the racists, the flat-earthers, and the birthers.  I think it is only appropriate that we practice what we preach and turn that inward.  I call on those on this site who criticize Israel to disavow this episode and the people who would cheer Ahmadinejad.  If you won't do that, then you have to tell us what it is about Ahmadinejad that is not deserving of condemnation.  Is it the homophobia?  The Holocaust revisionism?  The election stealing?  Killing of protesters?  What do you like about him?

Originally posted to the wonderful world of reality on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 09:35 PM PDT.

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