The Lie That Is ‘Pinkwashing’: Columnist Attacks Israel for Promoting LGBT Values

Jul 14, 22
The Lie That Is ‘Pinkwashing’: Columnist Attacks Israel for Promoting LGBT Values


People take part in an annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, Israel June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Corinna Kern

The so-called “pinkwashing” accusation is one that has been leveled at Israel on numerous occasions.

First coined by Sarah Schulman in an article for The New York Times in 2011, the term suggests Israel’s progressive stance on LGBT+ rights is a component of a “deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

In the years following Schulman’s op-ed, the portmanteau has been frequently found in the lexicon of anti-Israel campaigners, who have also adopted the “washing” suffix to accuse the Jewish state of every kind of diversionary tactic imaginable, such as greenwashing, artwashing, and even funwashing.

As HonestReporting has noted previously, the pinkwashing claim evokes historical antisemitic libels, specifically that anything Jews do that is good or beneficial must be a part of some nefarious ulterior motive — in this case, diverting attention from Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

It is, therefore, disturbing when reputable publications use the word without so much as an acknowledgment of its connotations.

The latest example of this was an opinion piece on the website of the British daily newspaper, the i, by chief foreign commentator Michael Day, “‘Pro-gay’ dictators are using LGBT rights as a fig leaf for other human rights abuses,” which took aim at Israel for marketing itself as a “gay-friendly Middle Eastern oasis.”

In Day’s narrow view, the only reason Israel could engage in nation branding — that is, the use of corporate branding techniques to encourage tourism — is to “distract attention from its treatment of Palestinians.”

The piece continues:

It wasn’t just the politicians. The New York Times reported that an Israeli pornographer even shot a film, Men of Israel, on the site of a former Palestinian village. Classy.

Confident that the gays were happy, the then prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told the US Congress in 2011 that the Middle East was “a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted. Israel stands out. It is different.” Tell that to the Palestinians whose former land was used for a skin flick.

The treatment of gay Palestinians highlights the hypocrisy and double standards of LGBT-friendly Israel. It steadfastly refuses (in contravention of international law, again) to give asylum to homosexual Palestinians seeking refuge from the endemic homophobic violence in their own communities.

Aside from Day’s pearl-clutching at the shooting of a gay “skin flick,” his sarcastic riposte (“tell that to the Palestinians…”) to Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel is conspicuous in the Middle East is revealing.

It is abundantly clear that sarcasm is the only rebuttal Day has, because Israel isa beacon of progressive values in a region where women, as well as sexual and religious minorities, face widespread persecution.

For example, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates all prescribe the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations.

Israel, on the other hand, holds numerous LGBT+ pride events every summer, including in Tel Aviv — the largest such event in continental Asia — where this year more than 170,000 attendees enjoyed colorful floats and musical performances.

Meanwhile, a 2019 report commissioned by the then-foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Hunt, painted a very precarious picture of the future of Christians in the Middle East. Warning that “Christianity is at existential risk in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries,” the report cited oppressive laws, state-sanctioned violence, and discrimination against the religious group as the cause for their dwindling numbers.

Compare this to Israel, which guarantees freedom of religion to all faiths, and whose Christian population is actually growing.

Finally, Day’s claim that Israel “steadfastly refuses” to offer gay Palestinians asylum is simply untrue.

In fact, last month the Israeli government announced it would be granting work permits to both LGBT+ Palestinians fleeing the West Bank, in addition to women who had escaped domestic violence in the territory.

It is clear, then, that the allegation of Israeli pinkwashing is nothing more than hogwash. It is high time self-respecting journalists washed this lazy and loaded word from their vocabulary.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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