Op-ed submission: Pinkas, pinkwashing and the politics of normalization

Students for Justice in Palestine

This Monday, on Nov. 14, Etai Pinkas made his way to our campus to give a talk titled “Marriage Equality and LGBTQ* Issues in Israel.” As an advocate for same-sex marriage in israel, Pinkas’ job was not to simply speak on same-sex marriage, but also to contribute to a larger narrative that contextualizes israel as a “liberal democracy” and a “safe oasis” amongst the surrounding Arab states. As such, Pinkas presented a broad history of gay rights in israel, one that mentions his current case against the Supreme Court for access to surrogacy. This event is especially troubling in this election climate since Trump’s election has already prompted the israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, to invoke the president-elect’s platform in saying, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.” Thus, it is pivotal for us, as members of the Washington University community, and especially for those of us who are members of the LGBTQIA* community, to be aware of the ways in which our campus and our organizations are complicit in the normalization of the violent israeli occupation of Palestine.

By engaging in ‘pinkwashing’, pro-israel groups appeal to a liberal constituency which often includes the LGBTQIA* community or allies of the LGBTQIA* community. As Sarah Schulman writes, “Pinkwashing is an explicit strategy taken up in recent years by the government of Israel to portray Israel as a leader in gay rights and a gay tourism destination to improve its human rights image while deflecting attention away from the extreme violence of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Through a campaign called ‘Brand Israel,’ Israel has tried to change its public image, promoting itself as a ‘modern democracy’—and projecting a ‘LGBT-friendly’ image is just one part of this.This branding of Israel as gay-friendly does not promote gay-friendly practices or serve to improve the standard of living for queer folks living in israel, let alone Palestine. It does, however, normalize and distract from violations of international law: demolitions of Palestinian villages, illegal settlements in the West Bank, forced relocations and denial of the right of Palestinians to return to their homes, and an extended occupation under military rule. How can these violences, committed against Palestinians, including queer Palestinians, be considered “LGBTQIA*-friendly”? Do drone strikes spare gay Palestinians?

So when an event on LGBTQIA* Issues in israel is hosted on our campus, Hillel, Nice Jewish Queers and Washington University Students for Israel are complicit in normalizing occupation, violence against (queer) Palestinians, and anti-Arab racism. By branding israel as a gay haven, they create the grounds for themselves to justify the occupation as morally necessary in order to contain the “anti-gay” brown terrorists. This reductionist tactic, which proposes that the Palestinian people are a monolith of homophobes, fails to take an intersectional feminist lens. No individual can hold only one identity at a time. A queer Palestinian is not only queer or only Palestinian at any given moment and must then “walk the precarious line between the daily realities of LGBTQIA* discrimination and oppression and the dangers of separating and elevating that particular discrimination over the terrain of interconnected oppressions that forms, in part, what it means to be Palestinian.” When it does not erase their very existence and activism, it forces queer Palestinians to prioritize one identity over the other in a way that is especially dangerous considering the institutionalization and normalization of homophobic and anti-Arab rhetoric in a deeply anti-Muslim America. This is particularly alarming now, as the new president-elect vows to enact more terrorism on Muslim lives and his supporters feel emboldened to enact violence with the knowledge that it is sanctioned by the head of our state. Solidarity work is important now more than ever. In reference to a pinkwashing event at the National LGBT Creating Change conference last year, many groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, Darkmatter, Queers Against Israeli Pinkwashing, Transgender Muslim Support Network, alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women, signed a coalition statement saying, “we know that military occupation, ethnic cleansing, racism, and colonialism are incompatible with queer liberation and with fundamental human rights.” WashU Students for Justice in Palestine agrees.

For those of you who call for dialogue: postponing accountability of the israeli state for its violence by promoting “peace talks” in its place, while allowing more and more settlements on Palestinian land, has nearly destroyed the possibility of a two-state solution. Dialogue assumes an even playing field, and since Palestinian speakers are routinely kicked off our campus, it’s only fair that we hold this school’s complacency accountable and point out who is not at the table and who is silenced by the pinkwashed narrative.

#QueersDemandAnEndToMilitarism #NoPrideInApartheid

In Solidarity,

Students for Justice in Palestine

Editor’s Note: Students for Justice in Palestine asked for a divergence in AP Style rules for this piece.

  • Think for yourself

    If SJP wants to set the precedent that any message coming from any Israeli is just pinkwashing of Israels crimes, then they should be ready to accept that any message coming from any palestinian is just pinkwashing of palestinian crimes, i.e., HAMAS acts of terrorism, not to mention countless others. Those who believe SJPs stance on this matter is wrong need to start protesting every event they hold on behalf of palestinians as pinkwashing.

  • Beer Baron

    Help, I can’t find Palestine anywhere! ! !

  • Arafat

    In the West Bank Abbas is serving his 11th year of a four year term. He is worth hundreds of millions having stolen this money from international aid donations. He names city squares after terrorists who kill pregnant Jewish women.

    And in Gaza these same sins are multiplied. Hamas builds mansions for their top guards while ignoring the people.

    Meanwhile SJP denounces the only diverse, forward-looking, technologically advanced, gay and women friendly in the Middle East.

    SJP, why are you so misguided, so confused and so morally confused?

  • Tzanchan77

    Could SJO at Washington U tell people when the next Gay Pride Parade will happen in Gaza or the West Bank? If you are asking for banning speakers with whom you disagree then I imagine you would be ok with banning Pro-Palestinian speakers?

    As for “pink washing” Israel is a full democracy. In the last elections in israel, over 1M Arab Israelis voted., They have representation in the Knesset, even though some of then are virulently anti-Israel. Yet, in the West Bank, Abbas is in the 11th year of his 4 years term with absolutely no dissent tolerated. In Gaza, Hamas rules by the gun, So, who’s oppressing the Palestinians?

  • roccolore

    SJP = Homophobic leftists who defend ISIS and other Muslims. Liberals claim to be champions of gays, then defend the Muslims who hang gays or throw them off buildings.

  • Paul Felder

    Absolutely ridiculous article from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that cares very little about Palestinian lives and mostly about hating Israel. As President of Wash U Students for Israel, I helped bring Etai Pinkas to campus. Etai is the leader of the LGBT community in Israel and has sued the Israeli Supreme Court for surrogacy rights and recognition of same-sex marriages.

    SJP criticized the event as “pink washing”, or covering up Israel’s “human rights violations” by promoting Israel as a modern, liberal democracy. No matter how many hashtags and walkouts SJP organizes, they cannot erase the truth that Israel shares the same values of freedom, liberty, and tolerance as the United States. The citizens of Israel, Jewish, Arab, LGBT or not, are the freest in the entire Middle East. This is not a propaganda move of the Israeli government. Israelis choose to live in an open society and elect leaders who promote that society. The Israeli Defense Forces are made up of citizen soldiers just like the US military and have been called the most moral military in the history of the world by American and British politicians and generals.

    You can continue to wage boycotts against the only Jewish state in the world and support governments like Hamas which praise the 9/11 attacks, pay salaries to murderers, and use human shields, but stop pretending like you care about liberal values and peace.

  • Hunter Ayerson

    This article doesn’t make sense. Countries are aloud to talk about multiple things. The United States can spend time talking about technological innovation without having to mention police brutality or wall street corruption every single time. You try to make it seem like Israel is anti-gay for “oppressing (queer) Palestinians”, yet don’t mention anywhere the fact that the Palestinian government, the Hamas,executes gays in the Gaza strip. Good try though!