Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Pinkwashing: One of Israel’s Many Strategies to Deflect from Crimes Against Palestinians

The Israeli military portrays itself as the "World's most LGBT friendly," although LGBTQ+ Palestinians are not spared its indiscriminate bombings, nor arbitrary arrests and checkpoint breaches.

A rainbow flag hangs from a boat during a “Pride” flotilla event in the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel on June 24, 2022, to mark the International Pride Month. JALAA MAREY / AFP

Dana Hourany

Palestinian activists refer to  the term “pinkwashing” to condemn Israel‘s use of the LGBTQ+ movement as a means to shift attention away from its human rights violations committed against Palestinians for decades.

For example, on the “TouristIsrael” website – a popular Israeli travel service provider – the country and its city, Tel Aviv, are billed as “the most accepting and open in the Middle East when it comes to gay people.”

Detailed information on gay bars, beaches, and pride parades during the month of June, with an emphasis on Tel Aviv being “the only host of the public gay pride parade in the Middle East,” ignores the fact that celebrations are taking place atop the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages and amidst daily crimes against Palestinians of all sexual orientations.

The Israeli military portrays itself as the “World’s most LGBT friendly,” although LGBTQ+ Palestinians are not spared its indiscriminate bombings, nor arbitrary arrests and checkpoint breaches.

According to experts and activists, pinkwashing has detrimental cultural and political consequences. In contrast to Israel’s narrative of the modern state protecting “the Palestinian queers,” Palestinian NGOs, international allies, and academics work tirelessly to reveal the obstacles faced by LGBTQ+ people living under occupation and to remind the world of Israel’s undemocratic policies.

Selective support for LGBTQ+

According to Palestinian activist Omar Mohammad, Israel creates a dualistic narrative in which Israel‘s “openness” is compared to Palestine’s “backwardness.”

The occupation uses this duality to appeal to the West not only via pinkwashing, by via alleged environmental activism (greenwashing) and so-called feminist approaches to policy (purplewashing).

“Israel paints Palestine as a primitive country by saying we demolish our green spaces or that we don’t give women equal rights as a way to justify its ongoing occupation. It wants to present itself as the Middle Eastern savior whilst committing the gravest of aggressions,” Mohammad told Fanack.

As a consequence, Israel alienates the Palestinian LGBTQ+ community and misleads its members into believing that they are rejected by all sides.

“Those who buy into this narrative and come to feel left out and unloved by their own culture and the wider society around them,” Mohammad added, “are particularly vulnerable.”

Although the community faces entrenched patriarchal attitudes and homophobia, Israel has never stepped in to help or granted asylum for LGBTQ+ Palestinians coming from the Gaza strip or the West Bank.

This goes against the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that grants asylum for those with a “well-founded fear of persecution,” which Israel has signed but deems inapplicable to Palestinian nationals.

Furthermore, when the body of burned-alive Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found in the Jerusalem Forest on July 2, 2014, Israeli media outlets kept floating the theory of “honor killing” that incriminates the family for killing its boy for being gay. The family insisted that the allegations were false and were proven truthful when Israeli police arrested six Jewish suspects for the kidnap-murder of the 16-year-old.

Ironically, homophobia and fears of persecution were sanctioned by Western colonial powers.

Colonialism and pinkwashing

The Palestinian legal system is based on a mix of British, Egyptian, Ottoman, and, more recently, Palestinian religious legislation and Israeli military directives. Since 1948, several of these laws have remained unchanged.

The Criminal Code Ordinance 1936, which criminalized same-sex behavior between men, was acquired from the British during their mandate over Palestine.

There is little evidence of the law being enforced nowadays, and it appears to be largely obsolete in practice.

Editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Yearbook of International Law, Anis F. Kassim told Electronic Intifada that the Penal Code is silent on acts committed by adults of the same sex with their own respective free will.

“Having checked the reported cases – as published – and with the old and young practitioners, I have not found any court case involving homosexuality,” Kassim said.

Pinkwashers, on the other hand, maintain that the “East is persistently anti-homosexual because it refuses to embrace Western liberalism,” while Palestinian gay rights group Al Qaws claims that “pinkwashing is the symptom, [while] settler-colonialism is the root sickness.”

Pinkwashing, as author Joseph A. Boone puts it in his book “The Homoerotics of Orientalism,” erases several centuries of history in which “the uptight Christian West that accused the debauched Muslim East of harboring what is euphemistically called the ‘male vice’ (sodomy).”

For Mohammad, the debate over who’s more tolerant only serves pinkwashers because it draws attention away from Israeli apartheid.

“It’s a losing game for us and a redundant argument to engage in. What’s the point of being more tolerant of LGBTQ+ rights when you’re constantly killing innocent Palestinians?” Mohammad said.

Furthermore, deplatforming and silencing Palestinian voices who are pro-LGBTQ+ goes beyond the occupation’s borders. Palestinian writer and activist Mohammad El-Kurd recently had his invitation revoked by the Goethe-Institut for a conference titled, “Selling Fascism? Remembering the Unsold” set to take place in Germany from June 23 to 26. The Institute stated on Twitter that “El-Kurd was not an appropriate speaker for this forum: in previous posts on social media, he had made several comments about Israel in a way the Goethe-Institut does not find acceptable.”

As a result, Goethe-Institut was bombarded with condemnations by activists and social media users for contradicting the purpose of the roundtable; the activist, on the other hand, received heavy backlash for his open support for LGBTQ+s.

Homonationalism as a byproduct

Homonationalism, as described by Jasbir Puar, a US-based queer theorist, occurs when the state applies the homosexual liberal subject to nonnormative LGBTQ+s, most notably Muslims, who are presented as homophobic “villains,” especially in the aftermath of 9/11.

Lebanese scholar Ralph Haddad notes in his study, “Queering the Occupation: Settler Colonial Sexualities in the Era of Homonationalism” for Kohl Journal that according to Puar, the experience of white cis-gay males in the United States sets the bar for progressiveness; countries are assessed on their homosexual populations’ rights to same-sex marriage, military service, and child adoption.

According to Haddad, this further alienates LGBTQ+s in the global south and diminishes their experiences.

As a result, the Western gay identity becomes the dominant standard, whereas different experiences, such as the Palestinian one, are erased from the public sphere, says the researcher.

“The Euro-American centric LGBTQ+ discourse emphasizing pride celebrations and the ‘coming out’ story doesn’t mean anyone else’s fight is less legitimate. Especially if they choose to express their queerness differently,” Haddad said.

This is particularly harmful to the LGBTQ+s of Palestine that internalize these stories and feel inadequate as a consequence, Mohammad notes.

“While it is vital to discuss communal prejudice in our Middle Eastern countries,” Haddad added, “we must not lose sight of the Palestinian struggle, which is about confronting Israeli tyranny, discrimination, and atrocities.”

To counter pinkwashing, organizations such as PQBDS, Al-Qaws, and Pinkwatching Israel have developed a pinkwatching strategy, in which they demand political and economic justice for all Palestinians.

As a result, the LGBTQ+ community and its allies are battling on several fronts, with the largest struggle being against an invading force attempting to erase them off the map, according to Mohammad.

“Despite all of the hatred and prejudice, the community has made little strides forward in recent years,” Mohammad explained. “We have no choice except to fight patriarchy and occupation simultaneously. Our struggle in Palestine is unique; we are tenacious and will not give up,” the activist added.

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