Pinkwashing in Israel distracts attention from larger human-rights violations, a call to action

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By: Jason Lydon/TRT Columnist*

The month of November was “Out in Israel Month,” as organized by the Consulate General of Israel, Israel Campus Round Table, Jewish Community Relations Council, the Boston LGBT Film Festival, among others. Individuals riding the MBTA throughout the Greater Boston Area were bombarded with ads celebrating Israel’s inclusiveness of LGBT people. In an OP-ED last month, Sarah Schulman explains the history of what is called “pinkwashing,” the branding of Israel as a safe-haven for LGBTQ folks while simultaneously directing attention away to the heinous human rights abuses Israel is perpetrating against the indigenous people of Palestine. She directs readers’ attention to the work of Jasbir Puar who names the propensity of LGBTQ support for militaristic nationalism, such as celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with no analysis of the empire building led by the U.S. military, “homonationalism.” It is ideologies like these that those of us with privileged racial, class, gender and citizenship identities need to be cautious of adopting while we think we are achieving rights or “equality.”

In response to the pinkwashing agenda in Boston a group of people came together to write letters, distribute petitions, and organize attendance or pickets of particular events. The letter to the Boston LGBT Film Festival began as such: “We would like to thank you for your inspired contributions to the LGBT community and to Boston, more generally. Your past film selections evince a commitment to diversity and a preoccupation with social justice. Given this excellent history, we are dismayed by your partnership with ‘Out in Israel’ and the corresponding film selection, ‘Mom & Dad: I Have Something to Tell You.’ Through this partnership, you make use of your authority to lend positive publicity to a government whose human rights violations have attracted worldwide censure. Moreover, you form a partnership with ‘Out in Israel’ in spite of an international cultural boycott of Israel — led by Palestinian artists and allies — to protest the brutal and illegal occupation.” The letter continued, informing the leadership of the film festival about the reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and the ways they are using our communities to legitimize their continued colonization. The letter was signed by nearly 100 individuals and yet the Boston LGBT Film Festival continued to use its name as a sponsor of the Consulate General of Israel’s campaign.

Another local organization, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), partnered with the “Out in Israel” campaign for a breakfast panel conversation. A letter was also sent to GLAD, which will hopefully lead to a meeting between community members and GLAD leadership. This letter opened with explicit attention to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Movement that has been organized by Palestinians, a campaign that includes a cultural boycott of any events that forward the Israeli agenda of deflecting attention from their human rights abuses. The organizers against pinkwashing of Israel ask for a moment of consideration: “Consider, for instance, what Israel looks like to gay Palestinians. For these individuals, Israel is _anything but_ a haven of freedom and inclusivity. Subject to the omnipresence of Israel’s gay-inclusive military, Palestinians’ movements are controlled and monitored by hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and obstacles throughout the West Bank. Throughout Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, Palestinians face the threat of home demolition and increasing violence at the hands of Israeli settlers. Even Palestinians who legally live in Israel contend with institutionalized inequity in the form of at least 70 discriminatory Israeli laws.” GLAD has a responsibility to look at how they partner with different organizations and what it says to the larger LGBTQ community.

Early last month, dozens of people rallied outside of Brattle Theater where the film “Mom & Dad I Have Something to Tell You” was being screened. While individuals were walking into the screening there was chanting, “Even if your army’s gay, occupation’s not okay,” “hey hey homo, Israel apartheid’s got to go,” and others. The director of the film was present and filmed some of the picketing as well as conversation with the protesters. I had the opportunity to speak to him, and one of the pieces I wish I had shared is that even though the story he has to tell is beautiful and important, he is being used by the Israeli government to push forward their own agenda. Even though the story of young queers coming out and dealing with the struggles of internalized oppression in religious households is an essential story to tell, if you use this story in conjunction with the Israeli government then they are the ones who control the message. Even when we, as individuals, do not intend to participate in harm, unchecked privilege leads to a growing cycle of violence.

Even as “Out in Israel Month” comes to a close, the fight against pinkwashing does not. Sarah Schulman reminds all of us that “the long-sought realization of some rights for some gays should not blind us to the struggles against racism in Europe and the United States, or to the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home.” This is a call to action.

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