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Tel Aviv University
Israel’s Gay Pride Parade and “Pinkwashing” are Here Again


Editorial Note

Aeyal Gross, a law professor at TAU, is considered the architect of “pinkwashing,” a theory holding that Israel is tolerant of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals, and Transgender (LGBT) to cover up the “sins of occupation.” As IAM pointed out, Gross is a part of the self-described queer group that considers the mainstream LGBT community a sell-out and props for the nationalist propaganda of the government.

Unsurprisingly, Gross has used the annual Gay Pride Parade, one of the largest international gatherings of LGBT, to display his theory again.  But this time his theory faced opposition.  He was confronted by a gay debater James Kirchick, who asked him why “everything must have a sinister motive and come back to the Palestinian issue?" He also stated that “Israel cannot do anything right in some people’s eyes.  Even the good things it does must be for bad reasons.”  Kirchick also brought up the issue of gay persecution in Arab countries, stating that gays in Israel have more rights.  

Gross’s evasive answers to these and other questions demonstrates his intellectual shallowness and moral cowardice.   His response to Kirchick is telling in this context: “gays in the U.K. have many more rights than in Israel. So what?”

Gross clearly did not want to tackle the issue of the long-standing persecution of gays in many Arab and Muslim countries. As well known, gays are imprisoned and often executed. In the territories occupied by ISIS, gays are tortured and executed in most gruesome ways. The “so what” speaks volumes about Gross, who, ironically is an expert in international human rights.  

Unfortunately, Gross is not the only among the pinkwashing theorists to evade the catastrophe that has befallen gays in the Middle East.  For instance, Professor Sarah Schulman who featured prominently in the New York Times article on pinkwashing in Israel kept quiet on the issue.  

It remains to be seen whether the queer community that has been so active in protesting Israel’s pinkwashing would speak up for Arab and Muslim gays.

Pinkwashing debate: James Kirchick and Aeyal Gross face off on complexities of gay pride in Israel

As Tel Aviv celebrates gay pride week, debaters hash out whether all that pride is justified or whether crowing about LGBT rights covers up Israel's violation of other groups' rights.

By  Jun. 10, 2015 | 6:30 PM
Pinkwashing Debate
Haaretz.com's Pinkwashing debate featuring Aeyal Gross (L) and James Kirchick (R). Photo by Haaretz

The day before Tel Aviv's internationally renowned gay pride parade, Haaretz asked: Is gay pride more complex when it comes to Israel? Should we be questioning whether Israel is using gay rights to "pinkwash" its actions in the West Bank and Gaza, or are pinkwashing charges just an irrelevant ploy to change the subject back to the Palestinians?

Aeyal Gross, Haaretz's legal commentator, and James Kirchick, a Washington-based journalist, debated the question right here.

Kirchick defined pinkwashing as "anything Israel does that's positive with regard to LGBT rights [having] an ulterior, sinister motive." Gross, meanwhile, called pinkwashing an "appropriation of LGBT rights for propaganda to promote an image of [Israel] as democratic while diverting from other rights violations."

When Kirchick challenged Gross to provide an example of a leader who used LGBT rights to justify the occupation, Gross replied that "when after the flotilla, Netanyahu says 'go to Gaza, not to us,' the message is clear."

Kirchick and Gross continued to debate the merit of claims that gays in Israel have more rights than gays in the Arab world. "So what," Gross said. "Gays in the U.K. have many more rights than in Israel. So what?"

Kirchick responded that "LGBT people, like other people, will identify with places that share their values."

A debate follower asked Gross why everything must have a sinister motive and come back to the Palestinian issue. Kirchick echoed the sentiment, saying that "Israel cannot do anything right in some people's eyes. Even the good things it does must be for bad reasons."

Gross replied that he "sees politicians who never work to advance LGBT rights in Israel flaunt it abroad for propaganda."

Gross continued to call politicians who speak out against gay rights yet brand Israel as pro-gay guilty of pinkwashing, adding that "even when they speak for gay rights but do nothing to promote it actively, that's domestic pinkwashing."

Kirchick responded that pinkwashing "is used to describe anything that comes out of Israel that reflects positively on LGBT." He added that pinkwashing is more a strategy that reality, saying that "most people who crow about 'pinkwashing' don't care about peace. They are anti-Zionist BDSers."

Gross disagreed, saying the argument has been made domestically since 1999, "before the rest of the world found out."

Gross concluded by saying that "our hard fought rights shouldn't be appropriated by the government for propaganda - and when they are, we shouldn't be complicit."

Kirchick said "the very existence of this debate is an indicator of Israel's open society. Is it 'pinkwashing' to say that?"

Scroll to read through the whole debate as it happened (latest tweets are first, scroll to the end to read in order).

Aeyal Gross argues that gay rights in Israel are being appropriated for their propaganda value.

Gross, Haaretz's legal commentator, is an associate law professor at Tel Aviv University, where he focuses on international law, constitutional law, human rights and queer theory. He is a co-founder of Tel Aviv University's LGBT and Queer Studies Forum, which organizes the university's annual LGBTQ Studies Conference.

James Kirchick argues that Israel really has become more gay-friendly – and there's nothing wrong with saying so.

Kirchick is a Washington-based journalist who has reported from Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and the Caucusus. He is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C., a correspondent for The Daily Beast and a columnist for Tablet. A leading voice on American gay politics and international gay rights, he is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's journalist of the year award. His 2013 protest of anti-gay laws on Russian state-sponsored television was seen around the world.


Pinkwashing debate / Gay rights in Israel are being appropriated for propaganda value


Using gay rights as a yardstick for a country’s human rights record makes it seem as if the Israeli occupation does not undermine democracy and human rights.

By  Jun. 10, 2015 | 9:00 AM |

Two years ago, Haaretz political correspondent Barak Ravid wrote that he doesn’t recall Benjamin Netanyahu ever saying “homosexual” or “lesbian” in Hebrew, but does recall at least 10 instances in which the prime minister spoke about “gays” in speeches he delivered in English. In Israel, said Ravid, Netanyahu flees from LGBT issues as though they were on fire, but abroad he enjoys using the community for propaganda purposes in his war against Iran.

In almost every speech he has made in the United States or Europe, Netanyahu points out that in Iran they hang gay people in the public square, while in Israel we have gay pride parades.

Similarly, after the flotilla incident in 2010, when the Israeli navy killed nine activists aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, Netanyahu urged peace activists: “Go to the places where they oppress women. Go to the places where they hang homosexuals in town squares and deny the rights of minorities... Go to Tehran. Go to Gaza." He continued: "Anyone for whom human rights are truly important needs to support liberal democratic Israel."

These statements by Netahnayu encapsulate what has came to be known as “pinkwashing,” essentially the use of LGBT rights by Israel as propaganda, in a way that seeks to brand Israel as a liberal democracy – one that, even if it violates human rights in some areas, shares basic liberal values with other Western countries – and divert discussion of the occupation and the violation of human rights it entails.

When Netanyahu says those who seek to protest the continued siege of Gaza should go to Gaza to protest the Palestinian violation of gay rights but not the Israeli violation of Palestinian rights, he is suggesting that gay rights should be the yardstick based on which we should measure a country’s human rights record – as if the Israeli occupation, which this week enters its 49th year, does not undermine democracy and human rights.

However, the occupation, which has lasted so long it can no longer be considered temporary, undermines the most basic tenets of democracy. It is a regime based on the dispossession of land and water resources, as well as the rule of law; on separate legal and judicial systems for the Jewish and Arab populations; and on the denial of the most basic democratic principle, consent of the ruled. Jewish settlers in the West Bank vote in Israeli elections while Palestinians do not, even though they are affected by the decisions of the Israeli government no less than Israeli citizens.

There are many other examples that illustrate the appropriation of Israeli LGBT rights for propaganda purposes. Consider a poster from the California-based BlueStar agency, which has described its mission as humanizing perceptions about Israel. It shows Israeli soldiers and asks, “Where In the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” The poster provides the answer – “only in Israel” – and asks the audience to “Support Democracy. Support Israel.” Here the irony is blatant, as this is the same army that takes part in the oppression of Palestinians in a way that undermines democracy.

Part of a pro-Israel poster put out by the BlueStar agency.

Some dismiss the pinkwashingar guments as some bizarre conspiracy theory positing that Israel has gay rights so it can use them to divert the discussion from the occupation, or that Israel invents arguments on gay rights in the country for this purpose. But that line of thought misses the point, which is not that gay rights in Israel were developed to serve some propaganda purpose, but rather that they are being appropriated for that use.

The bottom line is that the state of LGBT rights in Israel, however good or bad it may be, should in no way deflect from the state's human rights violations or its deprivation of democratic rights in other contexts, especially that of the occupation.

Having said that, it is essential do discuss the way in which the Israeli government, which rarely acts to actively promote LGBT rights itself, appropriates the LGBT community’s hard-won achievements, which often come in the form of court rulings that grant those achievements in the face of the government’s opposition. No less troubling is "internal pinkwashing,” the way in which supporting LGBT rights gives a liberal aura to conservative Israeli politicians supporting the denial of the rights of others, such as Palestinians and asylum seekers.

For the Israeli LGBT community, this appropriation is tricky business. We should celebrate our achievements and take pride in them, while continuing to fight for full equality. But since LGBT rights are not more important than the rights of other groups, we must reject the practice of turning our rights into a propaganda tool that will allow Israel to continue oppressing others.

Aeyal Gross, Haaretz's legal commentator, is an associate law professor at Tel Aviv University, where he focuses on international law, constitutional law, human rights and queer theory. He is a co-founder of Tel Aviv University's LGBT and Queer Studies Forum, which organizes the university's annual LGBTQ Studies Conference.


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