OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Deconstructing ‘pinkwashing’ in the Middle East

Only by fighting for their recognition as human beings were LGBTQ people able to pressure governments and society at large to tear down homophobic barriers. Why would Israel be any different?

The 2010 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. Photo by Guy Yitzhaki.
The 2010 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade. Photo by Guy Yitzhaki.
Gershon Tsirulnikov

Bigotry never dies. Just as Hercules cut off Hydra’s head only to see it replaced by two more, the anti-Israel movement continues to morph into new forms of ignorance every time that it’s debunked by its greatest adversary: the factual truth.

In discussions about Israel and the Middle East that dominate the media and college campuses, the term “pinkwashing” has been turned into a popular buzzword by those determined to push their hate-filled agenda, even if it means turning against historically marginalized communities.

So, what exactly is this term that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions camp has shoved into the spotlight?

Pinkwashing has been described as the alleged Israeli “strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” In other words, Israel’s virtuous quality as the only country in the Middle East—and one of the very few in Asia—where members of the LGBTQ community not only live in relative peace, but thrive, is manufactured as part of a nefarious plot to conceal the suffering of Palestinians. From college campuses to pride marches, those who have been duped by anti-Israel groups have emphatically tried to shut down the voices of gay speakers from the moment they suspect any connection to Israel.

Never mind the fact that Israel has granted refuge to Palestinian members of the LGBTQ community whose lives were in danger. It is entirely unclear how this so-called “apartheid” state diminishes Palestinian rights while empowering them at the same time. The BDS movement has yet to clarify this; the unfounded conspiracy theories rife with anti-Semitic tropes are hardly convincing.

Throwing around ideas such as pinkwashing is very wrong and very presumptuous; such theories should be debunked on the spot for the sake of those fighting for their inherent rights to live as equals in society. The important work of prominent Israeli LGBTQ activists such as Shai Deluca-Tamasi and Hen Mazzig perfectly demonstrates the ignorance of people who assume that LGBTQ rights simply materialized in Israel out of thin air. In every single country where sexual minorities can live with dignity, the rights of those individuals came from bottom up.

Only by fighting for their recognition as human beings were LGBTQ people able to pressure governments and society at large to tear down homophobic barriers. Why would Israel be any different? How could the Israeli government artificially paint itself as gay-friendly when LGBTQ recognition only came to Israel after the tireless marches, demonstrations and court cases against the government by gay Israelis?

Perhaps this is yet another double standard and anti-Semitic trope applied to the Jewish state, in which the Israeli government exploits the flourishing gay community as a distraction to manipulate the world into supporting Israel. Suffice it to say, this idea that the Jewish nation manipulates gay rights is incredibly offensive and shows nothing but disrespect for all the Israeli LGBTQ folk who fought hard for their inclusion within everyday life.

What can those who value gay rights do to act against the falsehoods presented by pinkwashing? Speak up and put things into perspective for those who promote the pinkwashing propaganda. Nobody should accept that while Israel integrates gay Palestinian refugees, homosexuality is punishable by death in the Gaza Strip, and that 93 percent of Palestinians do not believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to Pew Research. As for the rest of the Arab world, the only recent glimpse of hope for the LGBTQ community was witnessed when Lebanon planned its own pride celebration, only to have it shut down after the organizer was arrested by authorities.

It’s clear which country is the best for gay rights in the region, and accusing it of pinkwashing while its neighbors detain and kill gay individuals is abhorrent. Given all of this, it’s ironic that BDS activists accuse Israel of pinkwashing while they throw LGBTQ rights under the bus by ignoring the suffering of those people to advance their ignorant agenda.

Gershon Tsirulnikov is a political-science major and CAMERA fellow at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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