a, Opinion

Commentary: Pinkwashing event ignores LGBTQ progress in Israel

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.

LGBTQ rights are human rights and should never be reduced to claims of political scheming.

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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  1. “Pinkwashing is the idea that Israel has and promotes LGBTQ rights in order to distract from its treatment of Palestinians.”
    That definition is wrong, hence the confusion of the author’s argument. Pinkwashing is the co-opting of the LGBTQ movement by governments such as Israel and the U.S. in order to deflect attention from other human rights abuses. This works by statements such as “Furthermore, Israel is a proud supporter of LGBTQ rights, unheard of in the Middle East and still uncommon throughout the world,” which a) treat the Middle East as a uniform entity, b) misleads people into believing that there are no spaces for LGBTQ in other countries in the Middle East, or Palestine for that matter (which is factually wrong), and c) therefore attempts to create a hierarchy between countries in the Middle East, by making Israel or the U.S. seem like ‘liberal democratic countries,’ (which is appealing to Western supporters) while completely ignoring massive human rights abuses.
    Pinkwashing does not, however, in any way critique the existence of LGBTQ rights in any country, nor does it attempt to disregard the progress that the Israeli community achieved for LGBTQ rights, as the author seems to believe. It is not a critique of civil movements, it is a critique of government practices that are harmful to others. I hope that the author will look more into what the movement actually is, and that that would ease their concerns (the Tribune also, y’all might have benefitted from fact-cheking the definition, instead of spreading misinformation).

    • Also, I find the Tribune’s choice of visual interesting. It was recycled from this article on Mondoweiss, which explains how Israeli officials launched a campaign to rebrand themselves internationally, which they called “Brand Israel”: http://mondoweiss.net/2011/11/a-documentary-guide-to-brand-israel-and-the-art-of-pinkwashing

      The article was a follow-up to this very well written piece in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/opinion/pinkwashing-and-israels-use-of-gays-as-a-messaging-tool.html , stating that, “In 2005, with help from American marketing executives, the Israeli government began a marketing campaign, ‘Brand Israel,’ aimed at men ages 18 to 34. The campaign, as reported by The Jewish Daily Forward, sought to depict Israel as ‘relevant and modern.’ The government later expanded the marketing plan by harnessing the gay community to reposition its global image.”

      • Rights for all

        It is not misinformation to say that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where LGBTQ rights is supported by the government. Regardless of your criticisms of Israel’s human rights record, faulting a state for promoting its support of LGBTQ people is some serious backwards logic.

        • It is misinformation to state that supporters of LGTBQ rights are “unheard of in the Middle East.” It erases the reality and experiences of people working on the ground for LGBTQ rights in other countries. There are many groups that are active, and they should not be ignored in order for Israel to improve its image. I’m not faulting Israel for promoting its support of LGBTQ people, I’m critiquing it for doing so at the expense of LGTBQ people in other countries.

          • You’re confusing the presence of LGBT supportive groups and organizations, with societal support. Hell, even Russia and Saudi Arabia has clubs and groups that provide support to the LGBT community. However, the reality on the ground is that members of the LGBT community can walk freely in the streets of Tel-Aviv, without having to hide their sexual orientation. They can hold hands and kiss, without getting beaten up, spat at, or cursed at. Israeli society is far more open-minded and accepting than most societies in the world. There are many stories of Palestinian gays who have moved to Israel, as their safety wasn’t guaranteed. And gays have to hide their sexual orientation in most Middle-Eastern countries in order to feel safe. You can name it “pinkwashing” or whatever you like, but it’s the reality. Why wouldn’t the Israeli government be allowed to say the truth? If New York would legalize Marijuana, and advertise it for touristic purposes, would you say: “It’s greenwashing, they’re trying to distract people from the fact that they still sentence people to death”? “Pinkwashing” is just another term just like “apartheid”, employed by movements such as BDS to rally support against Israel.

          • Again, I am not saying that Israel is not LBGTQ friendly, or that those movements in Israel should not be supported and celebrated.
            I’m saying that they should not be co-opted by governments on the expense of spaces that are not within Israel, or the U.S.. Palestinian activist groups have openly spoken out against these practices because they are harmful to Palestinian civil society. That is my concern.

          • Gael please stop! Your comments about Palestinian activist groups holds no bearing. It’s like saying the KKK is still around, yes its true but they are the outliers and are far from the norm. Palestine and the rest of the middle east are certainly not LBGTQ friendly. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more terrorists/ terrorist supporters than LBGTQ supporters.

          • You’re just making assumptions of an entire people being potentially terrorist, do you even understand how problematic that is? Assertions like that are what stand in the way of a successful solution.
            There are so many groups in different countries within the Middle East, some more than others, who do have LGBTQ movements. I’m not suggesting the countries themselves are safe havens, but for the sake of the people who do have safe spaces to express their sexuality, don’t ignore them! You’re doing more harm than good if you paint a whole people with the “terrorist” brush, rather than supporting their movements for equality.

            Also, reflect on what the word terrorism means for you. If you think that Palestinians can be terrorist, but Israelis can’t, if you think that Iraqis can be people from the U.S. can’t, then you’re using it with a very racist context.

          • You’re putting words in my mouth … I said there are probably more terrorist/terrorist supporters than LGBTQ supporters, meaning there are most likely very few LGBTQ supporters. What exactly are you trying to say in your previous comments, that Israel is wrong for being extremely LGBTQ friendly and boasting about it? I don’t see anything wrong with that especially in this day-and-age. Countries like Israel look for economic growth as well my friend, and one way to do that is to attract more people.

      • Oy this is so disheartening to read. You guys are sooo classic. Israel does something bad, you call it evil. Israel does something good, you claim that Israel is trying to hide the fact that it’s evil. This is getting so old. If anything, Israel wants tourists- that is the reason why it promotes itself as a LGBTQ-friendly country… and it works. You should go sometime, Tel Aviv Pride is incredible. 100 000 people marching in the streets, many of whom are tourists.

        • I don’t find the concept of black and white thinking useful, to be honest. I’m not claiming Israel is inherently evil, but that it has some bad policies that disadvantage Palestinians. Pinkwashing is a damaging practice, no matter if Israel does it, or the U.S. or any other country. It is based on optimizing one countries image on the expense of other people. That is the issue. Denying LGBTQ movements in Palestine, or other parts of the Middle East is harmful to the queer people active in these movements, whether you engage in this tactic for money or to sustain the occupation.

    • Your own definition of Pinkwashing is consistent with the author’s, actually. Your definition also states that Pinkwashing suggests Israel uses its policies regarding the LGBTQ community to distract from the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, you phrase it more aggressively: The Israeli government partners with the LGBTQ representation to distract from human rights abuses.
      Other flaws with the above response: 1) The supposition that other countries in the Middle East other than Israel protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, an unlikely and unbacked statement.
      2) The suggestion that the author is Pinkwashing Israel to present it to the Western world as above a uniformly inferior Middle East to hide “massive human rights abuses” (see your point ‘c’). The author’s whole point is against Pinkwashing, so I need not explain its dismerit here. I would also cite the author’s sad ignorance if they are indeed suggesting that Israel commits human rights abuses and hides it with pro-LGBTQ policies, whereas the rest of the Middle East may not have pro-LGBTQ policies but at least no ones human rights are being abused. That is what their phrasing suggests.
      3) The suggestion at the end that the author is completely mislead, so that his commentary is totally irrelevant. Even if this was a research article, which it is not, the points which it discusses are accurate. You further accuse the Tribune of not taking care in their choice of articles. I might argue that this displays jealousy that the author’s opinion is taken seriously and presented before the McGill community, as it should, being factually consistent and sensitive to the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
      4) The crimes against English language grammar and phrasing, and the central concepts of reading the article you reply to, researching your arguments and generally avoiding obscuring what we as scholars are supposed to work toward understanding – the real world.

      • Nope, the actual definition is definitely not consistent with the one the author uses. You should read more carefully, and not try to trivialize things.
        Your paraphrasing of my argument is not even close to what I actually stated. I’m definitely not saying that Israel “has” LGBTQ rights to distract from other human rights abuses, nor am I saying that LGBTQ movement are “partnering” with governments that actively use Pinkwashing. Pinkwashing is a government practice, not one of LGBTQ movements, hence no groups that are celebrating or fighting for LGBTQ rights are accused of Pinkwashing, but governments that use Pinkwashing to brighten up their international image. (And if you look at the articles linked in my second comment, you can see that Israeli officials publicly stated that this is a tactic they use.) Furthermore, I never stated that Pinkwashing necessarily has to refer to Israel, since it is a tool that any government could potentially use. Israel and the U.S. are just the most famous for it.

        Since the rest of your argument is weirdly enough suddenly formed in list-form, I will try to follow them as such.
        1) A simple google search can give you many links to groups that support LGBTQ rights in other Middle Eastern countries and in Palestine. Your ignorance of them does not weaken my argument.
        2) I can only refer you to “Brand Israel” again, which Israeli officially publicly announced in 2005. The information is there, and the great thing about facts is that you don’t have to believe them to make them true.
        3) Trust me, jealousy is not my issue. The spread of misinformation under which other people then have to suffer, is. Furthermore, you failed to prove my argument wrong, since the definition that the author is using for Pinkwashing is in fact misleading. It would be one thing to use a correct definition and construct specific arguments against it from there, but building up a whole argument on the misunderstanding of the basic concept that the article is discussing, does make the piece irrelevant.
        4) Your sentence doesn’t make sense, which is ironic, because it seems to be about grammar and phrasing? Oh wait I see, you suddenly started listing things. Ok, so you think i committed crimes against the English language, fair enough, I’m not a native speaker, so that is not my major focus here. You think I don’t understand the central concepts of the article. I would like to throw this statement right back at you. Researching arguments seems also to be a bit more of an issue for you then for me, considering that you, similar to the author, do not seem to be familiar with the concept of Pinkwashing.

        tl:dr: You didn’t really add anything new to the discussion, because all your points stem out of the badly done paraphrasing of my statements. I suggest you read what I actually wrote instead of obscuring the issue by putting words in my mouth.

    • I also do not applaud the attempt at presenting an argument systematically (organizing your points using “a)”, “b)”, “c)”. As a personal enthusiast of systematic presentation of arguments, I rather feel it was besmirched in its application in Gael’s comment.

    • “misleads people into believing that there are no spaces for LGBTQ in other countries in the Middle East, or Palestine for that matter (which is factually wrong)”

      Please enlighten me what positive space is there for LGBTQ people in other countries in Middle East and Palestine? Because the only stories I’ve ever heard on that subject from multiple media sources across the board is that LGBTQ people are often abused and killed in most Middle Eastern countries.

      Here was a recent story of a Gay Palestinian who fled to ISRAEL and then Canada because of attempts on his life: http://www.timesofisrael.com/gay-relative-of-hamas-founder-faces-deportation-from-canada/

      Feel free to learn more about him and his circumstances, which are not unique to the LGBTQ Palestinian community. Many have sought asylum in Israel.

      • I think you not believing that there are any spaces for LGBTQ people in Palestine just proves my point.

        Here is an article about AlQaws, which is an organization that operates in Israel and the West Bank in order to support LGBTQ rights as well as the Palestinian identity of people. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/mar/10/rainbowoverpalestine

        Here is also a recording about LGBTQ spaces in Beirut:

        You can surely find more sources if you google stuff.

        That being said, I do not in any way deny the issues that many LGBTQ people face in Middle Eastern countries, nor anywhere else around the world. If you got the impression that I did, then I’m sorry about that. There are issues, which need to be addressed, but more importantly, which are being addressed progressively more. And I think that ignorance or denial of groups who put a lot of effort in this is incredibly harmful to their communities.

  2. Israel's great, if u r not Pal

    Note how this article does not mention the word Palestinian once.

    • Reading is good

      A simple Control F shows that this article mentions the word “palestinian” 5 times actually

      • Reading IS good

        Not really. It uses it once when naming the event. Also using Control F. 🙂

        • Missing the point

          this is just wrong lol. its in there 5 times…Regardless, if you’re focussing on word count, you’re clearly missing the point of the article

    • Ryan Bellerose

      if it mentioned Palestinians it would only be to remind people that gays are killed by Palestinians and that palestinian gays often flee to ISRAEL.

  3. Mara Cohen

    It always seems that Human Rights issues get subsumed by the Arab Palestinian Issues, even when the Human Rights group being subsumed is in precisely the opposite way they should be thinking, in order to stay alive. The Arab Palestinian LGBTQ Community lives in Israel, and is in the closet in Arab Palestinian controlled territory

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