There’s No Pride in Apartheid — Stop Pink-Washing Israel’s Crimes

Keegan O’Brien
Photo: Paul Weiskel
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Keegan O’Brien  Photo: Paul Weiskel

Keegan O’Brien
Photo: Paul Weiskel

By: Keegan O’Brien/Special to TRT—

Every year in June, the LGBTQ community comes together to celebrate Pride month; and every year you’re guaranteed to see advertisements marketing Israel as a hot, must visit gay tourist destination. From Tel Aviv’s supposed cultural acceptance of LGBTQ people to Israel’s ability to offer endless partying and hot, chiseled men, it’s a gaycation not to be missed.

But, this PR blitz neglects to mention a fundamental truth: Israel is an apartheid state.

For starters, Israel, like all societies in the world, is rife with homophobia and transphobia. It has a highly organized, well financed and politically influential Jewish right wing that advocates for socially reactionary, anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic policies. It is far from a queer paradise. [pullquote]From Tel Aviv’s supposed cultural acceptance of LGBTQ people to Israel’s ability to offer endless partying and hot, chiseled men, it’s a gaycation not to be missed. But, this PR blitz neglects to mention a fundamental truth: Israel is an apartheid state.[/pullquote]

More importantly, Israel is a colonial settler society based on racial apartheid. It’s a country whose establishment in 1948 was based upon the violent expulsion and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population to clear the way for the creation of an exclusively Jewish state. It’s a society where Palestinians live as second class citizens systematically subjected to racist discrimination, and as prisoners subjected to utterly inhumane and brutal conditions in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza—commonly referred to as the world’s “largest open air prison” because of  the current blockade being imposed by Israel.

Israel’s boosters seem to have realized that  building an apartheid wall and bulldozing homes in the West Bank, or enacting a blockade that collectively punishes and starves the entire population of Gaza from accessing its most basic necessities, aren’t the best marketing schemes when it comes to promoting itself as a bastion of progress. Insteadof focusing on its shameful abuse of human rights and violation of international law, Israel has made a concerted effort to market its image as an LGBTQ-accepting, tolerant society in a sea of Arab reaction. While it’s true that some LGBTQ people have been able to create cultural enclaves in select urban centers in Israel, these marketing efforts serve another purpose: to detract attention away from other, not so pretty facts about Israeli society, while demonizing those it colonizes in order to justify its crimes against them.[pullquote] It has a highly organized, well financed and politically influential Jewish right wing that advocates for socially reactionary, anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic policies. It is far from a queer paradise.[/pullquote]

Activists like to call this blatant exploitation of LGBTQ rights for colonial purposes “pinkwashing.”

Nothing illustrates the highly selective and hypocritical nature of Israel’s supposed “progressive” character more clearly than the experiences of LGBTQ Palestinians themselves. There is no special pink door for LGBTQ Palestinians to cross through The Apartheid Wall or get them around the daily humiliation of check points throughout the West Bank. Identifying as LGBTQ does not allow Palestinians a free trip back to their homeland in historic Palestine (that only applies to Jews), and being LGBTQ most certainly does not grant protection to Palestinians when the Israeli Defense Force decides to rain down missiles on their homes, schools and hospitals in Gaza.

Being queer or Jewish or both does not come with a pass to carry out systematic oppression, violence and dispossession against another group of people. Israel’s partial and uneven acceptance of (some) LGBTQ people does not justify its horrific and obscene treatment of all Palestinians—queer and straight. [pullquote]Activists like to call this blatant exploitation of LGBTQ rights for colonial purposes “pinkwashing.”  [/pullquote]

We celebrate Pride every year in June to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 and the modern LGBTQ movement to which it gave birth. What most people probably don’t know is that Stonewall took place in an era of radicalism, a time period when movements actively saw themselves in solidarity with liberation struggles taking place across the world against all systems of oppression, empire and occupation. The gay liberation movement of the 60s and 70s was no different.

Gay liberationists understood that  sexual and gender freedom were impossible without confronting and dismantling the interlocking systems of exploitation and oppression that grind down and suffocate all of us—LGBTQ and straight. This meant then, as it does today, that solidarity and a willingness to confront all forms of oppression that queer people experience—Palestinians included—need to be central to our movement.

The U.S. funds Israel to the tune of $3 billion a year, making it the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. As people in the States, not only do we have a particular responsibility to speak out against Israel’s crimes, but if we are organized and effective enough we also hold the potential power to bring them to a crippling halt by cutting off U.S. funding. Thankfully, there is already a growing movement on campuses and in communities pushing for this; it’s called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The BDS movement has three simple demands: 1) an end to the occupation and the dismantling of The Apartheid Wall, 2) equal rights for all Palestinians within Israel, and 3) the right to return for all Palestinian refugees.  [pullquote]Israel’s partial and uneven acceptance of (some) LGBTQ people does not justify its horrific and obscene treatment of all Palestinians—queer and straight.[/pullquote]

As queer people, we have a political and moral obligation to speak out and not allow our collective identity, our history, and our struggle against oppression to be used in the service of colonialism and occupation. If you haven’t already, educate yourself about the Palestinian struggle, and join the global BDS movement.

There’s no pride in pinkwashing apartheid.

For more information about Israeli apartheid and the occupation, check out www.itisapartheid.org and www.endtheoccupation.org. For more information about the BDS movement and how to get involved, check out www.bdsmovement.net.

*Keegan O’Brien has been an LGBTQ activist since high school and is a Boston native. He is a former youth steering committee member of BAGLY, was an activist with Join the Impact-MA, a student organizer for the National Equality March in 2009, and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Boston in American Studies. He is invovled in a range of social and economic justice and anti-war issues, is a member of the International Socialist Organization. He has written extensively on LGBTQ social justice issues, his writings have appeared in The Rainbow Times, TheNation.com, The New Civil Rights Movement, and SocialistWorker.org.

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10 Comments on "There’s No Pride in Apartheid — Stop Pink-Washing Israel’s Crimes"

  1. this article is blatant false anti Israel propaganda that uses typical phrases and words that can be found on all the well organized anti Israeli organizations such as BDS where I suspect the rhetorics came from
    and it spreads false information as well
    let me just mention the “largest foreign recipient of US aid claim that is false- Afghanistan receives 3 times more aid than Israel , Israel is obligated to spend more than 75% of the aid it receives to buy the US military products which provides jobs and stability for the US contractors)
    Israeli society is tolerant towards the LGBT community and Israel has just passed the bill to allow gay couples to use surrogate services in Israel
    the “apartheid wall” the author of this article is referring to is a security fence (the wall is just about 20% of the barrier) that reduced the number of terrorist attacks on the Israeli citizens by almost 100% and it will be the border between the two states
    there are more than 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel who enjoy the same rights Jewish citizens of Israel enjoy and the large number of Arab LGBT who share the same thriving gay scene in Israel confirms this
    Arabs in Israel enjoy more freedoms than in any of the real oppressive Arab states that deny the basic rights to LGBT community ( even punish by death ) , to women and to all the other minorities

  2. the indigenous population this author is referring to were both Jews and Arabs , and both populations also immigrated to the region drawn by the economy (the building of infrastructure for mandatory Palestine)
    when a two state proposal was offered by the UN , Jews accepted it and Arabs proclaimed an all out war to “drive the Jews into the sea”
    many of those who left their homes did so because they believed their leaders would win the war and they would be able to return to JEws free Middle east..

  3. ps- from the pew research polls :
    Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%).
    by Sharia law- homosexuality is illegal

  4. the author of this article relies on information that is not correct :
    Israel is not a single largest recipient of US foreign aid (it is Afghanistan which receives three times more aid)
    more than 75% of the aid is recycled back into the US economy (Israel is obligated to purchase US products)
    the LGBT community in Israel includes many Arab citizens of Israel who enjoy freedoms they do not have in any other Arab country where homosexuality is punishable by law
    according to pew polls , more than 80% of Palestinians support the implementation of Sharia law as the law of a future Palestinian state
    by this law, homosexuality is illegal (crime ) and punishments can be as severe as death
    the wall is a security fence in more than 80% of the instances and it serves to prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israel (has reduced the number of the attacks on Israeli citizens by almost 100%)
    the barrier will be part of a future border between Israel and Palestine and is hardly the only such border in the world (Mexico-USA border)

  5. Mr. B. Delaney | June 9, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply

    Hahahaha is this article for real?!?!?
    I dare 1 just 1 gay man or woman to walk from one side of the palestinian territories to the other with a banner in arabic proclaiming their homosexuality!!! Crazy crazy article this is!! Roughly 94% of all palestinians are muslim they follow sharia law!!!
    Sharia law calls for the murder of all gay people!!
    Again CRAZY CRAZY article!!!!!
    Please do not moderate this i fact

  6. Jim F. Brinning | June 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Reply

    I am disappointed that The Rainbow Times published this anti-Semitic diatribe against Israel in its Pride issue without a countervailing opinion. By printing it in the Pride issue, you give it a prominence it wouldn’t have otherwise, and by publishing it in this issue without an opposing view, you essentially agree with the author that this is linked to Pride.

  7. I wrote a reply a few hours ago. Although I received an email for activation, my response has disappeared. Could someone please explain this.

  8. Chuck Colbert | June 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Reply

    I am at a loss of where to begin with this offensive take on a very complicated landscape that is Israel and Palestine. I would like to refer the author to a very riveting account of the history and much more — “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” by Ari Shavit, an Israeli journalist. If Mr. O’Brien (http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/app/2014/06/07/theres-pride-apartheid-stop-pink-washing-israels-crimes/) intended to turn off gay Jews here and globally, he has succeeded. If he is simply missing pieces of information, then I hope he would be open to learning and listening. The loaded language used in this piece is nothing less than a conversation stopper. The founding documents of Hamas, moreover, call for the destruction of Israel and more. To my knowledge, Hamas stands by that sentiment. And last but not least, I am unaware of any LGBTQ Pride celebration in Gaza.

  9. The ignorance here is appalling – does the author not know that the Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel, having lived here for over 3000 years? The only colonialists here are the Muslim conquerors of the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland, and even when we offer to share it with them, as we have done time and time again, the answer is a resounding, racist, imperialist no. The author needs to do an awful lot of homework and a lot less demagogic posturing.

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