Pinkwashing: Sexual Assault on Israel

The relentless anti-Israeli warriors can never take yes for an answer. By every index the State of Israel can be proud of its record on sexual issues, especially on the question of gay rights. It is self-evident that these rights are enjoyed, as is political freedom generally, in Israel while rarely if ever in other Middle East countries. The reality in many Arab countries is that homosexual sex is punishable by death or long terms of imprisonment.  It is no coincidence that in a recent survey of web site voters that Tel Aviv was voted the most hospitable town to gays, receiving 43 per cent, while New York was next with 14 per cent and Toronto with 7 per cent.  

Any objective and rational observer is aware that gays serve in the Israeli military and some of them are high-ranking officers, that gay partners benefit in both the public and private sectors, that gay adoptions are recognized as are gay marriages, though these are performed abroad, that the Knesset has openly gay members, that gay clubs exist openly, that since 1998 Tel Aviv has hosted gay theme events, and that 100,000 people took part in the Gay Pride parade last year.

But the relentless critics in their unilateral assault on Israel are neither objective nor rational on this issue nor on some many other issues concerning Israel.  Instead from these distraught individuals has emanated tortuous and absurd logic, usually in obscurantist post-modernist language. Now they have coined a new word,"pinkwashing."  

This indicates that Israel is using a deliberate strategy, a propaganda device to make known its support of gays in order to conceal its continuing violations of human rights of Palestinians behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.  Pinkwashing means that Israel proclaims or exaggerates gay rights in order to present itself as progressive.

This accusation has been put to use. A delegation of American LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) academics was invited by gay groups to visit Palestine in January 2012. It included Katherine Franke, Professor of Law at Columbia University, Pauline Park, a prominent figure in gay organizations, and Jasbir Puar, a Professor at Rutgers.

The photos posted by a member of the delegation shows that the itinerary was carefully planned to present a negative picture of Israel and its "oppression" of Palestinians. The open statement and petition circulated by some of the delegation demanded that gays and their allies should oppose Israel's practice of pinkwashing by all means including an international BDS movement. The delegation found that Israel's pinkwashing was a "well-funded, cynical publicity campaign" to market a purportedly gay-friendly Israel so as to distract attention from its "devastating human rights abuses" against Palestinians.

Interestingly, two incidents in the report on this trip have received little attention. One is that the members of the delegation were told not to reveal their gay identity to their Muslim host families who would be uncomfortable with hosting openly gay people. The other is the extraordinary admission by Palestinian gays that the Palestinian LGBT community could not come out openly.

Few, especially admirers of Israel, had previously been aware that the much maligned Israeli propaganda machine has in fact been capable of such remarkable devious brilliance in presenting such a favorable case on Israeli attitudes to gays that it has succeeded in suppressing knowledge of and detracting attention from alleged Israeli oppression of Palestinians from the international community. But those participating in a conference, entitled "Homonationalism and Pinkwashing", organized by Professor Sarah Schulman, to be held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on April 10-11, 2013 are apparently aware of this devious Israeli strategy and are eager to inform the ignorant New York population of it.

On the face of it is not clear what the relationship is supposed to be between gays enjoying the beach at Tel Aviv, and the refusal of Palestinian representatives to enter into peace talks with their Israeli counterparts, to discuss the serious issues of the disputed territories, borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem. It is possible that the CUNY conference will clarify the relationship, but this is improbable in a meeting that seems less likely to be a serious academic exercise and more a venue for anti-Israeli rhetoric. 

On the surface of it the conference looks benign: there are sessions on issues of gay rights in Latin America, Canada, and Europe. But three of the four keynote speakers are, like Schulman, known for their ardent pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli stance.  Some panels intend to deal with Israeli occupation, and with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. None appear to deal with the persecution of homosexuals and lesbians in Iran and in Arab countries, a region in which women are stoned and gays are hanged. It is ironic and sad that members of groups that have been ostracized and denied rights in the past are exploiting their sexual identity against a country that has accepted and nurtured them. By doing so the LGBT community has debased itself to becoming another weapon in the arsenal used to attack Israel.

The conference is supposed to be a pioneering, historic event, in which discussion will focus on "burgeoning arenas of academic study and inquiry."  However, the "arenas" of pinkwashing and homonationalism suggest that a political motif of anti-Israeli, and probably anti-American rhetoric is likely to be prominently featured. This conclusion can be drawn from the list of keynote speakers at the conference, the seats for which were apparently sold out six months in advance, which are supposed to include Professor Judith Butler, Professor Jasbir Puar, Rabib Alameddine, and Haneen Maikey.

Butler, a feminist philosopher frequently ridiculed for the impenetrable jargon in her scholarly works, is well known for her anti-Israeli criticisms, for support of the BDS movement, and for the implicit criticism of Israel view in her view that Judaism is not "associated with state violence."  She appeared at the Brooklyn College meeting in February 2013 where in carefully couched language she expressed support for BDS.

Professor Puar teaches at Rutgers University, and held the Edward Said Chair of American Studies at the American University in Beirut. She coined the term "homonationalism," and provides a definition, in language that some may be able to penetrate, that it is a "collusion between homosexuality and American nationalism that is generated both by national rhetorics of patriotic inclusion and by gay queer subjects." This "definition" may mean that a state, such as Israel, uses gay rights to appear progressive, while really oppressing other groups, the only one mentioned are the Palestinians.

Haneen Maikey is a Palestinian gay activist, a self-described "Palestinian citizen of Israel" whose major worry seems to be that the State of Israel has nothing besides gay rights to promote its liberal image.  She finds this ridiculous, even hilarious because she believes there are no gay rights in Israel.

One can only conclude this conference is yet another example of fashionable nonsense, that it is an exercise in supposed erudition masquerading as scholarship, and mostly obscurantist. Perhaps one should pity those who were eager to buy tickets for what will probably be masochist suffering in attempting to penetrate intellectual garbage.

The real pity is that the foremost figures in this conference appear to be less genuinely interested in pressing the case for gay rights that in using the occasion for criticism of Israel, for a boycott of it, and even for its elimination. Not coincidentally, Maikey belongs to organizations in favor of academic and cultural boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

Will these critics ever takes yes for an answer?   Israel is justifiably proud of its record on civil and sexual rights, and so-called progressives ought to admire it. Imperfect perhaps, as is to be expected in an imperfect world, but a record to be admired. Instead, the city of New York, first at Brooklyn College on February 7, 2013 where the Political Science department co-sponsored an anti-Israeli gathering organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, and soon at CUNY, has been the venue for continuing assaults on Israel by one-sided presentations. Whatever happened to academic responsibility in New York? Academic freedom is supposed to encompass intellectual debate, not one-sided ideological polemics.

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