Pinkwashing FAQ

What exactly is Pinkwashing?

Israel and its supporters use several PR techniques to re-create the image of Israel in the international arena from one associated with ongoing wars, repression of Palestinians, and occupation of Palestinian lands to one associated with scientific advances, technological breakthroughs, art, culture, and equality (primarily showcasing women and LGBT people). The particular use of LGBT people to this end is what activists have called “pinkwashing”.

Pinkwashing is the cynical use of gay rights to distract from and normalize the settler colonial and apartheid reality that the State of Israel has established on the ground.

Pinkwashing is meant to cover up these violations with a facade of progressiveness and equality. In short, Israeli pinkwashing aims to isolate queer from other identities and make its record on gay rights trump its continued occupation and brutalization of the Palestinian people.

But Israel does have a good record on gay rights. What’s wrong with Israel promoting gay rights?

Israel’s record is more mixed than it likes to pretend. For example, it promotes Tel Aviv Pride, a relatively large and relaxed event. Areas of Tel Aviv are LGBT-friendly. But Jerusalem Pride is quite different – the 2010 march was only two thousand strong, and had to be protected by 1500 police. The Mayor of Jerusalem refused to take part, and opponents held homophobic placards. Members of Jerusalem’s large ultra-Orthodox community are particularly hostile – in 2005 an ultra-Orthodox protester stabbed and injured three marchers.

And there are many other limits to sexual rights in Israel on grounds of both gender and ethnic group. A 2003 law bars Palestinians married to Israelis from becoming citizens. Ultra-orthodox Jews campaign for gender segregation in public spaces – the Guardian reports that “women mainly sit at the back and men mainly at the front on some buses in Jerusalem.” Even marriages inside Israel between Jewish converts do not count unless the couple is “converted” according to Orthodox principles.

Besides, LGBTQ campaigns are part of a broader struggle – for a just society free of racism and sexism, where all people are treated with respect. It makes a mockery of LGBTQ struggles to think you can have “gay rights” against a background of apartheid and racism.

In engaging in pinkwashing, Israel is not “promoting gay rights”. It is rather using the relative freedom accorded to (Jewish Israeli) gays as a public relations tool. Pinkwashing is not about gay rights at all, but rather a means to justify the continued occupation and colonial settling of Palestinian land.

What does Pinkwashing ‘look’ like?

Pinkwashing takes many forms, and can come directly from the Israeli government, government sponsored organizations or from international organizations and individuals. The Israeli governments and its supporters have taken up the issue of gay rights as part of its propaganda offensive against the Palestinians. Part of this offensive involves recruiting LGBT individuals and other minority groups to make the case for Israel abroad as a bastion of civil rights compared to the Arab world, and hence more deserving of international support regardless of its treatment of Palestinians.

Another example of blatant pinkwashing is the Facebook page Queer Support for Israel which has numerous photos and videos promoting Israel as a haven for gay rights and demonizing Palestinian and Arab societies as barbaric and homophobic. Another is the zionist propaganda organization Stand With Us, whose flyers attempt to promote Israel by demonizing Palestinians.

Pinkwashing can also take the form of speech, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the United States Congress where he said ” Israel has always embraced this path [of liberty] in a Middle East that has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.” Such a statement brings to mind the civilizing discourses of European colonial powers, which used the figures of oppressed Eastern women to obfuscate the violence they committed unto indigenous populations and whose interventionist policies around indigenous women were used to justify rule. In Pinkwashing we thus find the latest installment of this long history of colonial violence, replacing the “woman question” with the “homosexual question.

Yes, the the Israel state does have legal protections for LGBT Israelis. However, pinkwashing actually has nothing to do with gay rights at all. It is not about Israel or Palestine’s record on gay rights, but about how gay rights are used as a political strategy anchored in Islamophobia and Arabophobia to demonize Arabs and Palestinians, discredit Palestinian resistance, and justify Israeli occupation and apartheid.

One example of pinkwashing that illustrated this point is the widely circulated video about the supposedly gay American activist, Marc, who claimed that he was denied a place on the most recent Gaza Flotilla due to his sexuality. Marc is shown to be a naive do-gooder taken in by leftist calls to liberate Palestine, only to find that the pro-Palestine movement is rabidly homophobic. An attempt to scare off potential supporters of the Palestinian cause, the video ends with Marc warning: “Be careful who you get in bed with, if you hook up with the wrong group, you might wake up next to Hamas”. This video was then exposed by Electronic Intifada as a hoax distributed through Israeli government offices. It was meant to vilify not only Palestinians, but those who support them.

Pinkwashing is made legible in a context where a country’s treatment of its gay population has become the litmus test of modernity and democracy, and where global Islamophobia continues to proliferate in a post-911 world.

What’s wrong with Israel promoting its record on gay rights? Can’t we just acknowledge that Israel does protect its LGBT citizens?

There is nothing unique about Israel’s highlighting of select minority communities in its own PR campaigns. Indeed, almost all states engage in niche marketing of various ethnic and minority groups, and with the growing lucrativeness of the gay tourism industry, several cities around the world have begun selling themselves as gay or gay friendly destinations.

However, we maintain that there is also another, more insidious purpose to this promotion. Berlin does not advertise itself as a gay tourism destination by pointing out the homophobia in Zagreb, yet, the discourse surrounding “gay Israel” almost invariably situates itself in contradistinction to its Arab neighbors. In fact, an examination of Brand Israel, a PR campaign commissioned by the Israeli foreign ministry reveals the numerous ways that Israel actively uses LGBT rights and people as PR tools on the state’s dime with the goal of changing Israel’s image from one of an extremely militarized country to one that is seen as modern and liberal, thus obfuscating the realities of occupation and apartheid.

What about homophobia in Palestinian society?

Homophobia exists in Palestinian society, as it does everywhere else in the world. But again, we reiterate that pinkwashing has nothing to do with gay rights, and the homophobia that exists within Palestine is beside the point.

Homophobia in Palestine is not an isolated phenomenon present solely in Arab or Palestinian societies, but is universal. Tackling homophobia and speaking up about it in Palestinian society is the responsibility of queer Palestinians, not the Israeli government or the propaganda division in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Isn’t Israel helping queer Palestinians?

No. Although in many advertisements and publications Israel is presented as a safe haven for Palestinians fleeing violence in their own communities, it is actually extremely rare for gay Palestinians to flee to Israel from the West Bank of Gaza. It is actually illegal for Palestinians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or from refugee communities to enter Israel, because of the Israeli citizenship law which does not allow Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza or the refugee camps to hold Israeli citizenship. This law makes it impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to seek asylum in Israel even if they wanted to and are able to get past the enormous number of checkpoints and the illegal apartheid wall.

Nevertheless, Zionists continue to propagate this myth to present Israel as a savior of gay Palestinians.

Can you really describe Israeli government policies as apartheid?

In November 2011 the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an international body of lawyers and activists, found that “Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law.” (full report)

Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in 2008. In 2010 he authored a UN report which referred to “general structure of apartheid that exists in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”. He cited the different residence laws that exist for Palestinians and Israeli citizens; the different legal authorities to which they are subject; discrimination on movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and to and from Jerusalem; discimination in land ownership and punitive house demolition (full report ishere).

Adapted from text by Pinkwatching Israel