Op-ed submission: Pinkas, pinkwashing and the politics of normalization
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.
Students for Justice in Palestine
Editor’s Note: Students for Justice in Palestine asked for a divergence in AP Style rules for this piece.