by Shiri Eisner
The latest video hoax produced by the Israeli government and released unto YouTube has recently drawn wide attention to a phenomenon that many radical LGBT groups have been trying to combat for quite a while now: pinkwashing.
For those unaware of the hoax story so far, the gist of it goes thus: a mysterious video goes on YouTube in which a ‘disillusioned’ gay activist by the name of “Marc” tells his viewers about his attempt to join the Gaza Flotilla, only to be rebuked by the organizers on account of his being gay. “Marc” then goes on to tell us, that after being rejected in such a homophobic manner, he went on to find pictures of Palestine solidarity and human rights organizers embracing Hammas leaders. The shocked “Marc” then warns his fellow gay activists from believing the “lies” of these terrible human rights groups and, indeed, from joining or supporting either the flotilla or the Palestinian solidarity movement. However, all’s well that ends well: the video was quickly exposed as a hoax, tracking it back to a minor Tel Aviv gay celebrity by the name of Omer Gershon, by and by proving that the Israeli government has no fear of spreading outright lies in attempts to achieve its propaganda goals (for example, it’s worth noting that out bisexual author Alice Walker will be joining the flotilla).
So, What’s This “Pinkwashing” Anyway?
“Pinkwash” is the term we, LGBT (Bisexual, Transgender, Lesbian and Gay) activists, use in order to describe the way in which the Israeli government makes cynical use of both the Palestinian and Israeli queer communities in order to market Israel to the international public as a “liberal” “progressive” “gay haven,” while demonizing Arabic Middle Eastern cultures and presenting them – and Palestine in particular – as inherently homophobic (an Islamophobic notion whose goal is to further justify Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the occupied territories and against Palestinian citizens of Israel). The Israeli government, through the Ministry of Tourism and with kind help from the Tel Aviv municipality, makes use of the relative tolerance and meager rights given to Jewish gays and lesbians (but not bisexuals and transgenders), as a way of diverting attention from the many Israeli war crimes performed in Gaza, the occupied Palestinian territories and inside Israel itself.
Here it is worth noting that the occupation does not differentiate between queers and non-queers – thus, under the occupation, Palestinian LGBT people are denied even the most basic human rights such as freedom of movement, medical care, education, livelihood etc. Palestinian LGBT’s living inside Israel face systematic, legalized policies of apartheid discriminating against them in all walks of life, rendering them de facto second class citizens. Without a doubt, the occupation is currently the number one factor responsible for the oppression currently experienced by Palestinian LGBT people. However, Israeli pinkwashing propaganda chooses to present a false image in which Israel becomes a beacon of White light in the “darkness” of the Middle East, presenting the “progressive” Tel Aviv as a “gay Mecca” for Palestinian LGBT’s escaping their “conservative” and homophobic society.
In fact, Palestinian LGBT’s escaping their families receive a less-than-welcoming treatment from the Israeli government. For those living in Gaza and the occupied territories, the government offers the benefit of an illegal immigrant status, imprisoning and subsequently deporting the ones caught by Israeli police and military forces. As for Palestinian LGBT’s who live within Israeli borders, the government remains indifferent to their condition and lends no resources, help, nor sanctuary for those in need of its assistance. Thus the Israeli government is free to ignore the needs of Palestinian LGBT’s seeking help, while capitalizing on Palestinian society’s alleged conservatism and LGBT-phobia for its own needs of propaganda. Needless to say, of course, even those Palestinian LGBT’s residing in Israel, accepted by their families and living a peaceful life, are still forced to face copious amounts of racism and apartheid policies in their everyday lives, including within the Jewish LGBT community.
However, the cost of pinkwashing takes its toll not only from Palestinians, but also from Jewish LGBT people, as incidents of violence, discrimination, harassment and mistreatment against us are discretely silenced so as to prevent injury to Israel’s “progressive” image. Thus, several acts of anti-LGBT violence in Tel Aviv as well as in Jerusalem taking place in the past two years have been conveniently neglected by the eye of the media and from public attention, remaining unaddressed by most everyone.
The Gay Tourism Project
Yet another aspect of the phenomenon of pinkwashing is the Tel Aviv “Gay Tourism Project”, often considered the brain-child of the Mayor’s adviser on gay issues, Yaniv Waizman. Waizman, a business and marketing professional had succeeded in creating a connection between Tel Aviv’s favorite municipal value – capitalism – and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism’s favorite value – propaganda, while using the Tel Aviv gay male community as the glue between the two. The Tel Aviv Gay Tourism Project markets Tel Aviv as a tourist destination for rich, white, gay males from Europe and the USA, attempting to disconnect Tel Aviv from the Gaza strip and the occupied territories, falsely depicting Tel Aviv as a peaceful haven far from the conflict. However, state-sanctioned racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians happen even within Tel Aviv itself, as Palestinian residents of Yaffa (a Palestinian city ethnically cleansed in 1948 and now under Tel Aviv’s municipal rule) are removed from their homes and indigenous neighborhoods in order to make room for building new Jewish-only, rich-only towers. The gay tourism project thus achieves three goals: pinkwashing Israel’s international image, making capitalist gain for Tel Aviv and its business owners, in addition to a convenient inner-LGBT propaganda value of convincing the community itself that all our rights had already been achieved, and that now there’s nothing left for us to do but proudly join the occupation and apartheid in a new and shiny brand of homo-nationalism.
Yet another related offshoot is worth mentioning: IGLYO’s (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organization) conference in Tel Aviv, hosted by the Israeli organization of IGY (Israeli Gay Youth) – incidentally, founded and headed by Yaniv Waizman. Considering Waizman’s connection to the gay tourism project, it is unsurprising to find yet another attempt at pinkwashing made by the same methods and in a similar context – and considering Omer Gershon’s connections to IGY, as a former volunteer, it is unsurprising to find him in a video such as this.
Back to the Beginning
So, what was the video for? Queer BDS activists have been long protesting the phenomenon of pinkwashing, both in Palestine, in Israel and internationally, receiving increasing recognition and success. As more and more people from the queer community join the BDS movement, we also face a backlash from Israeli authorities as well as the community mainstream. With Facebook groups such as Queer Support for Israel with their gallery named Don’t Be Pinkwashed to Hate Israel – to misleading government-sponsored videos on YouTube, Israeli propaganda is attempting to “dispel” arguments of pinkwashing and reinstate its familiar lies.
However, the struggle continues and the BDS movement is expanding more and more. As the video hoax has been exposed, so does the queer BDS campaign exposes pinkwashing, Israeli propaganda and its many war crimes, creating a strong and influential movement. More and more people recognize that cooperation with Israeli pinkwashing and propaganda means cooperation with the crimes of the occupation and apartheid, and thus choose the option of solidarity through the BDS, instead. As the movement grows, we will expect more backlash – but also more success.
Shiri Eisner is a radical bisexual-genderqueer-feminist-anarchist activist and writer. She resides in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she works with such groups as Israeli Queers for Palestine and the Radical Pride March, and where she participates in feminist activism, transgender and genderqueer activism, animal rights activism, and many more. She is the founder and head of the bisexual group, Panorama – Bi and Pansexual Feminist Community. She hopes to incite the revolution very soon.
Read her English-language blog here, and her Hebrew language blog here.