I got off the bus at the station and eagerly looked around. Excitement rushed through my veins as I saw him. With a huge smile on my face, I fell into his arms; this was my boyfriend. We walked along the water’s edge, hand in hand, as people passed us with hidden smiles of pride and support. I wasn’t used to that, but then I reminded myself: I was in Israel.
As a person who has benefitted personally from the LGBTQ rights that Israel upholds, I was deeply offended when I found out about McGill’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’ (SPHR) Pinkwashing event, “Palestine is a Queer Issue: A Workshop on Israeli Pinkwashing and Homonationalism,” a workshop which seeks to inform students about alleged Israeli pinkwashing. Pinkwashing is the idea that Israel has and promotes LGBTQ rights in order to distract from its treatment of Palestinians. It does not take into account the fact that hundreds of thousands of citizens of Israel, and tourists like myself, are actually benefitting every single minute of every single day from these rights, which are in place because Israel was founded on principles of equality
As stated in the Declaration of Independence, Israel upholds equal rights for all inhabitants regardless of religion, race, or sex. Israel holds regular free and democratic elections and has an independent judiciary. All of these are the requirements and fundamental aspects of a liberal democratic country. Furthermore, Israel is a proud supporter of LGBTQ rights, unheard of in the Middle East and still uncommon throughout the world.
The attempts of naysayers to turn around the progress of LGBTQ citizens’ rights in Israel and use it as an attack on Israel is astounding. The term pinkwashing is offensive to all those who fought hard for equal LGBTQ rights in Israel, to all citizens and visitors of Israel who have directly benefited from these laws, and to anyone who earnestly defends and promotes LGBTQ rights anywhere in the world. To shame Israel, or any country, for having progressive laws protecting a minority is appalling.
Israel promotes its LGBTQ rights, along with all of its citizens’ minority rights, not to distract from the Palestinian’s plight, but out of pride of being a liberal democracy. In fact, the first step towards LGBTQ rights, namely not enforcing previous bans on homosexual activity, occurred in Israel in the early 1960s. However, having LGBTQ rights does not make Israel the democracy that it is. Israel’s regular representational elections and independent judiciary do that. Instead, LGBTQ rights are just one example of how Israel extends human rights to all of its citizens.
Unfortunately, Israel has legitimate security concerns, and has the responsibility as a democracy to protect all of its citizens including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and LGBTQ. Israel ensures that it upholds the fundamental human rights of each of these groups. Both Palestinians and Israelis have committed reprehensible acts, and as such, claiming one to be an innocent victim is not helpful. Clearly, this discussion is complex, and not the simplistic case of aggressor versus innocent victim, and adding the claim of pinkwashing into the mix is egregious. LGBTQ rights are human rights and should never be reduced to claims of political scheming. They should only be used as a beacon of hope for equality, much needed in the region. The only way forward is open, two-sided dialogue—not one-sided censures, divestments, or movements such as the offensive pinkwashing event, which are not helpful for the pursuit of reconciliation or peace.
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