No Pride in pinkwashing

June 11, 2014

Israeli claims of a progressive attitude toward gays don't make up for its oppression of Palestinians, writes Keegan O’Brien, in an article written for Rainbow Times.

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 offer of 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.

More importantly, Israel is a colonial-settler society based on racial apartheid. It's a country whose establishment in 1948 was based on 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 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 imposed by Israel.

Protesters take a stand against pinkwashing Israeli apartheid
Protesters take a stand against pinkwashing Israeli apartheid

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, aren't the best marketing schemes when it comes to promoting itself as a bastion of progress.

Instead of 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.

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 checkpoints 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 Israel 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.

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 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 one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. As people in the U.S., 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 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.

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 and For more information about the BDS movement and how to get involved, check out

First published at the Rainbow Times.

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