Israeli occupation, Palestine & the LGBT community: pinkwashing 101
“Pinkwashing is an explicit strategy taken up in recent years by the government of Israel to portray Israel as a leader in gay rights and a gay tourism destination to improve its human rights image while deflecting attention away from the extreme violence of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Through a campaign called ‘Brand Israel,’ Israel has tried to change its public image, promoting itself as a ‘modern democracy’ – and projecting a ‘LGBT-friendly’ image is just one part of this,” wrote Sarah Schulman in 2011 (“A documentary guide to ‘Brand Israel’ and the art of pinkwashing “Mondoweiss.net, 11.30.11). Pinkwashers make a number of absurd assertions; these are among the the key claims:
1) Palestinian society is monolithically homophobic and transphobic. Pinkwashers never provide any evidence for this and in fact make false claims such as the assertion that homosexuality is illegal in the West Bank and prosecuted by the Palestinian Authority.
2) Israel is a gay paradise. Maybe for wealthy Jewish gay men in Tel Aviv, but Jewish lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and Mizrahi (Sephardi Jews of Arab origin) have very different experiences even in Tel Aviv; trans people in particular often face police harassment and brutality in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Outside of Tel Aviv and Haifa, attitudes towards LGBT people are often far from fully accepting. Israel also does not recognize same-sex marriage.
3) Palestinians find refuge from persecution in Israel. Zionist pinkwashers promote the image of queer Palestinians fleeing the West Bank to find refuge in gay bars in Tel Aviv, but in fact, Israel does not recognize or accept non-Jewish asylum seekers for political asylum, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity; in fact, the Israeli authorities often blackmail queer Palestinians into becoming collaborators, which creates a very dangerous and impossible situation for them. If LGBT people outside of Palestine actually want to help queer Palestinians, they can best do so by supporting LGBT Palestinian organizations including al-Qaws, Aswat (the Palestinian lesbian and bisexual women’s and trans organization based in Haifa) and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS).
4) Comparing Israel’s record on LGBT rights to Palestinian society helps queer Palestinians. When everyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to A Wider Bridge harps on Israel’s supposedly sterling record on LGBT issues actually makes things worse for queer Palestinians by pitting LGBT rights against Palestinian rights. What actually helps Palestinians is LGBT support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is the best way queer people can show support for queer Palestinians, along with direct support for their organizations.
5) Israel’s record on LGBT rights justifies the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Many non-Muslim, non-Arab countries in the world have terrible records on LGBT rights, including Russia, Hungary, Nigeria, Jamaica; no one suggests that they deserve to be subjected to foreign military occupation. Would anyone support or even propose a German invasion and occupation of Russia simply because Germany has a much better record on LGBT rights than Russia? No amount of progress of LGBT rights in Israel can possibly justify the illegal and increasingly brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem or the incremental genocide being pursued against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip all of which the United States subsidizes with more than $3 billion in US aid to the Israeli government a year. LGBT organizations based in Israel, Europe and especially the United States play a crucial role in advancing the discourse of pinkwashing, often directly coordinating with the Israeli government and sometimes funded directly by the Israeli government.