Jerusalem Pride: the reality behind pinkwashing PR

The attack on Jerusalem Gay Pride on Thursday was horrifying enough in itself. Six people were stabbed and two of them seriously injured. Marchers spoke about continuing the event walking on a road stained with blood and littered with medical equipment.

But the incident also shines a spotlight on Israeli society. Several hours after the attack, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated that “In Israel, everyone has the right to live in peace.” And yet, only hours after that, Jewish settlers on the West Bank attacked the homes of two Palestinian families in the village of Duma. Saad and Reham Dawabsha were taken to hospital with their son Ahmad, aged 4, while their eighteen-month-old son Ali Saad Dawabsha burned to death.

Settlements are Israeli cities, towns and villages built in territory Israel seized in the 1967 war. They are illegal in international law. Their purpose is to colonise these areas so that they become a permanent part of Israel. Netanyahu talks of peace, but on Wednesday 29 July he authorised the building of 300 more settlement buildings. On Thursday 30 July, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely pledged that the Israeli government would support the building of more illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and stated that “the enemy is anyone who wants to uproot Jewish settlement.”

The population of the settlements is now over 750,000 people: they occupy about 50% of the land of the West Bank as well as part of East Jerusalem. They are joined by roads for use by Jewish Israelis only and use a disproportionate amount of scarce water. Israeli settlers have carried out at least 120 attacks on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the start of 2015. They are the sharp end of Israel’s strategy in the region, and they make the racist and colonial nature of that strategy clear – as former Prime Minister Ehud Barack did when he called Israel “a villa in the jungle.”

The violence associated with the settlements is also linked to the attack on Jerusalem Pride. Yishai Schlissel, believed to have carried out the attack, is a settler. He comes from Modi’in Illit, a city now of over 50,000 people, first established in 1994 on land taken from five destroyed Palestinian villages. Remarkably, this is not the first homophobic attack he has carried out. In 2005 he stabbed three people at Jerusalem Pride and was imprisoned for 12 years. He was released 3 weeks ago – and has not been stopped from carrying out a repeat attack.

The attack on the Pride clearly exposes the lies at the basis of “pinkwashing” – the Israeli government’s claim that it heads a modern, democratic state exemplified by acceptance of LGBT people. Millions of dollars have been spent advertising Tel Aviv as a tourist destination, adverts aimed in particular at affluent gay men. But photos of good-looking men on the beach can’t divert everyone’s attention from the reality – such as Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer, which killed over 2,000 people, over 500 of them children. In fact, Israel is founded on violence and dispossession of Palestinians – including LGBT Palestinians – a process which continues today with the Israeli government’s endorsement of the settlements. The colonial nature of Israel means that it is not a “safe haven” for anyone – not indeed for Jews, including, as we saw on Thursday, LGBT Jews.

We hope that the events of the last few days will lead people to find out more about the conflict in Palestine, and to their becoming involved in the struggle for justice for the Palestinian people. These events show that a cynical public relations ploy like pinkwashing has nothing to contribute to that struggle.

Pinkwashing in the news at Pride season

No to Pinkwashing banner on Pride London 2015
The last few weeks have marked the height of the Pride season around the world, as events commemorate the Stonewall riot of June 1969. It’s also seen a higher public profile for issues around pinkwashing and LGBT issues in Palestine.

A rainbow flag on the apartheid wall

In late June, Khaled Jarrar painted a rainbow on a small part of Israel’s huge apartheid wall. He was inspired by the victory on same-sex marriage in the US, and felt that the rainbow could be a symbol of freedom and equality against Israeli ethnic cleansing. He was also aware that it’s an LGBT symbol, and was happy for Palestinian society to debate the issues it raised. He painted the mural with other people around, and most Palestinians supported his actions. However, a small minority didn’t – and the next night, a small number of Palestinian men whitewashed the rainbow.

Jarrar has written an account of what happened on Electronic Intifada. He points out that the story was typically reported from a pinkwashing perspective, which saw Israel as pro-LGBT and Palestine as homophobic – there was no mention of Palestinian support for his actions, or of the diversity of views in Palestinian society. He points out that, far from Israel being a safe haven for LGBT Palestinians, there are no Israeli laws which provide any kind of asylum to them. In fact, since 2003 Israeli law forbids the country’s citizens to live in Israel with Palestinian spouses from the West Bank, Gaza and several Arab states.

As he puts it, “It boils down to this: Israeli officials have boasted that 100,000 people attended the recent gay pride parade in Tel Aviv. But even if 100,000 of us Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip wanted to join that parade, we would have found the Israeli apartheid wall blocking our way.”

Free trips to Israel – how pinkwashing works in practice

A Canadian journalist has described how she took part in “a five-day press trip to Israel, sponsored and entirely funded by the Israeli tourism ministry to show off Tel Aviv Pride to 43 journalists from around the world.” Robin Perelle of the Canadian LGBT news site Daily Xtra described her visit to Israel in an article headlined Tel Aviv gay Pride: paradise or pinkwashing? Her piece presents both the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints and, as so often in the mainstream and LGBT media, does little to explain the conflict. Still, it’s to her credit that Perelle doesn’t just accept the pro-Israeli story that’s presented to her – she points out that Tel Aviv is in many ways “a bubble that bears little resemblance to the rest of Israel” and that homophobia in Jerusalem is much more commonplace.

Back in Canada, she interviews a liberal Zionist lesbian feminist who details the Israeli system of fences, checkpoints and different legal systems for Palestinians. And she interviews Samira Saraya, an openly gay Palestinian woman living in Tel Aviv and the co-founder of the group Aswat, who tells her that you can be accepted in Tel Aviv as a lesbian – if you hide your Palestinian identity – and who also counters the myth of murderous and universal Palestinian homophobia, telling her “I go as a lesbian to Ramallah as well, and to Nazareth, and do not face homophobia or somebody cursing me because I’m a dyke.” The interview takes place by phone from Canada, so it’s clear that talking to Palestinians wasn’t included in the Israeli government’s expenses-paid trip. It’s all too clear that, in Samira’s words, the Israelis “use the parade to cover the other violations that Israel do everyday. This is pinkwashing.”

Pinkwashing protests on Berlin Pride

A group of Palestinian activists disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to Germany at the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on Saturday 27 June. Campaigners joined the parade with a banner reading “2,300 dead in Gaza – you can’t pinkwash this”. One protester told a reporter from the Russian-owned RT  network that “you can’t provide a platform for the Israeli ambassador to come here and preach about equality while committing ethnic cleansing and genocide in Palestine.” In the words of another Berlin against Pinkwashing activist, “The bombs falling on Gaza don’t differentiate between queers and non-queers.”

You can find a report including video on Electronic Intifada, and Berlin against Pinkwashing has a Facebook page.

Opposing pinkwashing on London Pride

For the fourth year we’ve brought the anti-pinkwashing message to Pride in London. We carried our banner amidst those of our friends from the trade union movement, and handed out over 1,000 of our new postcards – one side with the heading “No Pride in Israeli Apartheid”, the other titled “No to Pinkwashing”. The postcard artwork is available to download, and you can keep in touch with all the latest news on our Facebook page.

Al Qaws speaks out on statements by Israeli reservists

qaws-logo2On 12 September, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported a statement by reservists from an intelligence unit of the the IDF, the Israeli army. Forty-three reservists had signed a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu “saying they would refuse to do reserve service because of Israel’s ‘political persecution’ of the Palestinians.” The same day in the Guardian, a reservist described how “no boundaries were set”: they could use information about almost anything, with no respect at all for Palestinians’ privacy. Information used to put pressure on people included data about their economic situation, their mental state, medical conditions and personal relationships including same-sex relationships but also “who was cheating on his wife, with whom and how often.”

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Palestinian groups call on LGBT people worldwide to protest

On 30 July 2014 the organisation Aswat: Palestinian Gay Women called on queer activists to support the following statement:

Real Queer Liberation Begins with All Forms of Decolonizationstopbombing

In light of the ongoing brutal Israeli military aggression on Palestinians in Gaza, and the cruelty of Israeli Police Forces in oppressing acts of solidarity and resistance, we LGBTQ activists and organizations call allies around the world to take stand in solidarity with Palestinians and pressure Israel to Stop its aggression on Gazan civilians, End its Occupation of Palestinian Land and End its Apartheid regime.

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