Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pinkwashing: Is Israel Using Gays To Distract From the Occupation?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Members of the UA LGBT Institute want to get the word out about pinkwashing, which they see as a tactic by Israel to deter criticism of the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict by highlighting the country's gay-friendly policies.

The "Combating Pinkwashing" workshop is from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Fluxx Studio and Gallery, 414 E. Ninth St.

From the organizers:


Come build your understanding of pinkwashing and learn how to combat the pinkwashing events in your community. Pinkwashing is a tactic used by "pro Israel advocates" to minimize or in some cases, justify the occupation of Palestine because of Israel's record on LGBTQ rights.

This workshop will help you understand the language of pinkwashing, why it's important to disrupt it, and how to develop strategies to organize against pinkwashing when events are planned in your community. This strategy of pinkwashing is increasingly being seen at film festivals, city councils, and synagogues across the country—be part of this conversation to learn more about how it can be an organizing opportunity!

There's also a discussion called "Understanding Pinkwashing" from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at UA Gender & Women's Studies Building, room 100:


In recent years, more and more corporations, organizations and even nations are advertising themselves as gay-friendly. The State of Israel has specifically worked to advertise Tel-Aviv as a fun, safe space to party for LGBT and queer people. Why should queer activists and LGBT communities be skeptical of this development? How can understanding more about the history of the occupation and the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza help us unpack these campaigns? Finally, how does the State of Israel's "branding" efforts affect the Palestinian struggle? Join Tallie Ben Daniel of Jewish Voice for Peace to learn what pinkwashing is, how it works, and what the consequences are.

In 2011, a New York Times op-ed by Sarah Schulman, a professor of humanities at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, ruffled feathers:

In Israel, gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. The long-sought realization of some rights for some gays should not blind us to the struggles against racism in Europe and the United States, or to the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home.

A recent piece in the Daily Beast tried to take on critics of the pinkwashing argument:

Sarah Schulman, who organized the conference, first popularized the claim that Israel is guilty of pinkwashing—that is, of deliberately highlighting its stance on gay rights to mask its mistreatment of Palestinians—in a 2011 New York Times op-ed. Based on that op-ed, Dershowitz claims that Schulman “accuses Israel of feigning concern over the rights of gay people in order to whitewash—‘pinkwash’—its lack of concern for Palestinian people.” In a phone call Thursday, he explained that Schulman’s was “a very unclear article” but that he believes this is “the clear implication” of her words.

Unfortunately, it’s actually a flat-out misrepresentation of Schulman’s argument. Her belief, which emerges clearly from her other easily accessible writings, is not that Israel pretends to care about gay rights. It’s that those hard-won rights, once they’ve been recognized commendably and in good faith, then get used to portray Israel as progressive and modern, despite the occupation it continues to enforce. “Israel is trying to say that gay rights are emblems of modernity, and when you have them, it means that the whole society is advanced,” Schulman explained by phone. “And that therefore the violations of international law that the occupation represents don’t matter.”

The Range recently talked to Tallie Ben Daniel from Jewish Voice for Peace on the topic of pinkwashing:

What is pinkwashing?

The State of Israel in 2006 started a branding campaign to make themselves more relevant in technological advancement, environmental awareness and human rights. In tourism it was to specifically target gay people and identify Israel as a place to vacation and invest in — that somehow there is a link between being a progressive country and being gay-friendly. A lot of people in LGBT and queer community feel suspicious and have questions about this new move, while the occupation of Palestine is ongoing.

What are you going to discuss at the teachout?

What I want to do in my talk is look at the occupation and gay rights, and given a context to this nation branding. I'm particularly interested in this topic. I was born in the US to Israeli parents and I have a lot of extended family in Israel. I was taught at a young age to identify as Israeli before American. I feel sort of feel a betrayal or anger sometimes that a discussion on the occupation or the apartheid doesn’t’ take place.

How is pinkwashing used to make the occupation not seem so bad?

People will say why pick on Israel and not Russia. What I want to emphasize is that Israel has admitted funding this rebranding campaign. It’s not trying to hide something that is happening. We're not saying that Israel doesn't have gay rights, but we there's an occupation happening. How can we also talk about that?

These discussions can be very difficult or volatile to have, especially with American Jews.

I have empathy for people who have a very emotional reaction and look at Israel as a utopia for Jewish—a safe place for Jewish. But we have to talk about this as a real place with real people and real flaws, not an idealized place that may or may not exist. I’m curious to see who will come.

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