Arthur Slepian’s article “An Inconvenient Truth: The Myths of Pinkwashing” has been crafted very carefully, written very eloquently, and has done a remarkably better job than any other work I have encountered, either oral or in writing, to justify pinkwashing. Yet nonetheless, it performs the task of justifying Zionism in a queer context—the very definition of pinkwashing offered by Palestinian-American activist and filmmaker Nadia Awad. While I was brought up in Zionist Israel, studied in its Zionist public education system, was socialized in one of its Zionist youth movements, and served in its Zionist army, I have finally managed to successfully “deprogram” myself of most—if not all—of the brainwashing to which I was subjected during the first three quarters of my life.
Moreover, I would take Awad’s statement a step further and argue that there is absolutely nothing queer about Israel’s recent efforts to brand itself as a Mecca for the LGBT community. The utilization of heteronormative (and, to my knowledge, heterosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that) figures such as Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, as the most recent senior mouthpiece of the rebranding enterprise is a symbolic, yet powerful piece of evidence to that effect.
Slepian argues that pinkwashing is associated with a collection of myths, of which he enumerates five. If I follow his argumentation, particularly within the context of other publications and utterances by likeminded people, what he implies is that pinkwashing doesn’t really exist, except in the mind of those of us who have coined the term or adopted and perhaps expanded upon it and propagated its usage. The alleged myths that interest me the most are those having to do with the interrelation between LGBT rights in Israel and the struggle for Palestinian self-determination.
There is a fundamental flaw in the political thinking of many LGBT activists in Israel. This flaw stems from the same upbringing and socialization that I have described above. In other words, it has to do with Zionism. It is utterly impossible to truly be simultaneously queer and Zionist. The following has been said thousands of times, but it deserves to be repeated until it sinks in: a “Jewish and democratic state” is a horrific, racist contradiction in terms, especially considering upwards of twenty percent of Israel’s population who are not Jewish. By the same token, as long as the LGBT community in Israel struggles only for the rights of the LGBT community, showing near total disregard for other groups that are oppressed—arguably more oppressed than we—our struggle loses a great deal of its legitimacy.
I recall a moment several years ago, when I was living in Washington and was volunteering with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT lobbying group in the United States. A staff member told us that someone had called the office one day asking to be involved in the human rights crisis in Darfur. The staff turned him away, because, despite the name of the organization, the Human Rights Campaign doesn’t really deal with all human rights, but only with LGBT rights (or rather, often only LGB rights) inasmuch as they are human rights. This is a dangerous position to take, especially when LGBT people in America (and elsewhere) need all the support we can get. Recently, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did the right thing and stepped out of the boundaries of its confined mission and supported the LGBT community’s struggle for marriage equality. It is that kind of cross-sectional solidarity among oppressed minorities that should apply across the board, in this country, as well as in Palestine/Israel.
I would like to conclude with a few words on the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), as Slepian mentions the pinkwashing-accusatory community as a sideshow of sorts of the BDS movement. Some readers may be surprised that I will not be making any efforts to deny the link between the two. There is no reason to be apologetic about BDS. This may not be the appropriate platform to explicitly call for sanctions against Israel; and the country’s shameful, ridiculous attempts to shine an exaggerated light on its achievements in one domain of human rights, while sweeping its egregious war crimes, apartheid policies and other blatant human rights violations under the proverbial rug may not suffice to warrant boycotting it; but the crimes, the policies, and the violations themselves, sure are.
(Please note: This article is part of a broader debate on pinkwashing. For the debate’s full table of contents, click here).