Miriam Alster/Flash90
World News /27 Jul 2018

Israeli Pinkwashing Needs to Stop

Gaza, a Palestinian territory, is landlocked by blockade holding Palestinians in a chokehold that slowly squeezes the life out their society and economy. The West Bank, Palestine’s other territory, is occupied by Israeli settlers, who build infrastructures like checkpoints and walls that encourage settler colonialism and occupation of Palestinian lands. All of this and more is done by a government that has written the dehumanization of Palestinians into occupation law, with multiple violations of international human rights law, according to the Human Rights Watch.

With queer Palestinians facing the dual struggles of being queer and being colonized, we must recognize that the LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t just exist within the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts of the United States. Rather, heteropatriarchy exists all around the world. These aren’t separate systems of oppression that border one another, but instead work communally towards our destruction.

At this year’s Pride in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, I have the honor of working with the Anti-War Committee on spreading awareness about the oppression of queer Palestinians under Israeli rule. However, as a writer, I also have the obligation to wield the pen and spread awareness with my own words. To start such work is to confront the surface level that masks Israel’s rampant human rights violations: pinkwashing.

Pinkwashing is Israel’s strategy of improving perceptions by promoting democracy and “queer-friendliness” in order to shift attention away from Palestinian human rights violations.

Beneath the war against Palestinians is a war on truth. According to Sarah Schulman from the New York Times, Israel pours millions of dollars into Brand Israel, a public relations campaign focused on shifting global perceptions about their government. In doing so, Israel gains a massive leverage that aids their mission to assert dominance over Palestine. As Israel promotes itself as a progressive democracy that champions LGBTQ+ rights, attention is diverted from the ongoing apartheid and genocide against Palestinians.

Pinkwashing looks like…

Annual Pride: much like the United States, Israel has its own Pride Parade every year in the month of June in Tel Aviv, the “top gay destination.” With heavy capital investment from the Israeli government — over 4 million dollars, in fact — their LGBTQ+ community does a fantastic job of putting on a show to cover up Israel’s oppressive regime with rainbow flags.

Gay tourism to Israel: during Pride, Israel seizes the opportunity to capitalize on its tourism industry by marketing Tel Aviv — the Middle East’s “most progressive city” — to LGBTQ+ communities all around the globe. In fact, Israel spent nearly 3 million dollars on a “Pride Plane” to fly in tourists.

Progressive LGBTQ+ law: in response to condemnations of their human rights violations, the Israeli government boasts its “impressive” track record for the LGBTQ+ community, citing repeal of sodomy bans, recruitment of queer soldiers, same-sex adoption, and anti-discrimination laws as proof. Yet, queer Palestinians are exempt from the “freedoms” that Israel provides, proving Israel’s failure to honor democracy.

…And more. With an active and funded Brand Israel campaign, Israel has found a variety of ways to put on a new face that embodies the ideal modern democracy. In a region torn by war, poverty, and terrorism for decades — largely as a result of global military interventionism that Israel has responsibility in — Israel stands as the lone democracy: the progressive force of the Middle East.

Israel is — in fact — NOT queer-friendly. Therefore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deserves our attention.

Israel can never be seen as a shining symbol of human rights in the Middle East when Palestinians continue to be dehumanized, disenfranchised, incarcerated, and slaughtered.

Queer Palestinians are still Palestinians that face apartheid, but being queer subjects them to new battles under Israel’s rule.

According to Nigel O’Connor from Vice, the Israeli government coerces queer Palestinians through the Palestinian Authority (local police operating in accordance with Israeli occupation efforts) to expose their own communities or else be outed themselves, destroying their LGBTQ+ communities from the inside. She states, “…local Palestinian Authority police are aware and keep files on [queer Palestinians], blackmailing them into working as spies and informants.”

Queer Palestinians that seek refuge within Tel Aviv are not protected by Israel’s “impressive” queer-friendly laws. Contrary to pinkwashing, Israel is not a country that is committed to queer liberation. Ashley Bohrer from Al Jazeera writes, “The dismantling of economic stability and opportunity inside Palestine forces LGBT Palestinians to leave their homes and to live as undocumented, precarious workers in Israel, where they have no protections against harassment, rape, intimidation, or job discrimination, and in which finding safe housing and steady employment are scarce.”

It’s why Tel Aviv Pride — the event hosted by “the Middle East’s most progressive city” — is constantly boycotted by queer Palestinians. The pride of queer Israelis to parade on the land where Palestinians were slaughtered is the failure of intersectionality. At the protest, the queer Palestinian boycotters said, “[Israel] markets Tel Aviv as a city of freedom, and yet 70 kilometers away from here there are two million Palestinians jailed in Gaza…As members of a community that is still fighting for full rights and equality, we will not be silent in the face of human rights violations and repression of the freedom to protest.”

What is intersectionality?

It’s a framework for understanding how different forms of oppression intersect one another. Differences such as race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. don’t operate separately, but collaboratively. As queer Palestinians face the dual, interrelated struggle of colonialism and homophobia, it’s important to be mindful of intersectionality when addressing the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The missions of LGBTQ+ progress and Palestinian freedom are not at a crossroads: they are deeply intertwined.

To parade on stolen land in Tel Aviv Pride, exercise your freedoms as an LGBTQ+ person under Israeli government, and honor Israel as the shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East is not what the LGBTQ+ movement should stand for. Instead, the LGBTQ+ movement should stand hand-in-hand with the queer Palestinians who are actively organizing their liberation every day under Israeli occupation and regional homophobia.

Our struggle is not single-issue: we should be mindful of the ways in which the history of racism (and its manifestation as colonialism) affects the experiences of queers of color around the world.

Intersectionality is crucial to securing liberation for queers who are further marginalized along the lines of race, as well as honoring Pride’s roots in radical black resistance against state-sanctioned violence: Marsha P. Johnson threw bricks at violent police officers in America, much like how queer Palestinians challenge the institutionalized violence of apartheid in Israel.

I will concede that the LGBTQ+ community in Tel Aviv is comfortable with the progress that they’ve achieved for decades, and that I could feel “safe” being openly queer in Israel. However, that progress comes at the expense of the Palestinians who are being occupied under apartheid. As an LGBTQ+ movement, this tradeoff is unacceptable: our freedom does not merit the dehumanization of others.

Yes, we can all admit that the Middle East is terribly difficult for queer people in comparison to Israel.

According to Brian Whitaker from The Guardian, gays are non-existent within many Muslim countries. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the systems of oppression we face aren’t limited by borders: no matter where we go, they seem to follow us and ensure that we are unequal everywhere. Many of these places are worse than others.

This includes Palestine, which is also notorious for homophobia according to Christopher Scott McCannell from Washington Blade. However, there is a strong intersectional LGBTQ+ community in Palestine that organizes towards the two-step goal of decolonizing Palestine and liberating queer Palestinians. For example, alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society states, “Our vision is to contribute to the building of a vibrant and just Palestinian society that celebrates diverse sexualities, sexual orientations, and genders.”

Palestine is obviously not perfect now, but to claim that Israel is the right step forward for Palestinians is the exact mindset that pinkwashing cultivates. The LGBTQ+ community in Palestine refuses to believe that Israel is their savior, and we should too. Rather than submit to pinkwashing, we must offer support to the LGBTQ+ community in Palestine that actively works towards building the society that Israel pretends to be: a just society.

As members of the LGBTQ+ community around the globe, we must stand in solidarity with the Palestinians who are fighting against apartheid from Israel, and recognize the queer Palestinians who organize on behalf of their communities and their country. We must not be deceived by the powerful interests who use their resources to sway our opinions: the truth is clear. Pinkwashing must stop.

If you're interested in writing for International Policy Digest - please send us an email via submissions@intpolicydigest.org