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Israeli pinkwashing over Palestine begins to unravel

As the Israeli state continues to murder and displace Palestinians, NATHAN CZAPNIK challenges Israel's deceptive image of being a safe haven of LGBT tolerance

THE Israeli government prides its nation as being a “safe haven” for LGBT rights. In face of the Israeli Defence Forces’ killing, torturing and displacing of Palestinians over the decades, the Israeli government still expects the world to champion the nation for its inclusivity and progressiveness.

The Israeli government has deceived much of the world with its “pinkwashing.”

Furthermore, by creating a narrative that Israel is more akin to “Western” values than that of the predominantly Muslim populations in the Middle East, Israel is able to pitch itself as welcoming while depicting other countries in the region as backward.

Pinkwashing is a term used to describe the aggressive and deceitful championing of LGBT rights by governments and private corporations. Leeching on to LGBT movements worldwide, culprits of pinkwashing desire to peddle the gay rights agenda as a means of appearing progressive and tolerant so that they can gain public popularity.

When looking specifically into the Israeli state’s use of pinkwashing, it becomes obvious why they chose this propaganda tool in particular. Not only does pinkwashing bring in tourism for areas such as Tel Aviv, but it balances Israel’s historical track record of humanitarian rights violations.

In the wake of the monumental growth of international support for the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli apartheid Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, resulting in boycotts of Israeli goods and tourism, the Israeli state has clung onto the “gay tourism” industry as a means of resisting further boycotts.

In an online article from Israel’s tourist board “Tourist Israel” headlined “Why Tel Aviv is the ultimate LGBT travel destination,” the extent of the state’s pinkwashing propaganda machine is alarming.

Alongside other articles and adverts, the piece claims that Israel is “certainly the most accepting and progressive [nation] in the Middle East” and a “leader of gay rights in the region.” By making such sweeping statements, it is clear that this article was not designed purely for attracting gay tourists, but was rather another means of portraying the narrative of being “superior” and more “progressive” to other Middle Eastern nations.

Over the past few months Israel has received a huge backlash for hosting the 2019 Eurovision song contest held in Tel Aviv.

Activists such as the Palestinian organisation Al Qaws and the queer-identifying Arabic group Pinkwatching Israel (a faction of BDS) called for mass boycotts of the event. As a result, the turnout for Eurovision was significantly lower than previous years in European nations, with even the Jerusalem Post admitting that “thousands of Eurovision tickets [were] unsold.”

The negative publicity that Eurovision received would not have been as rife if it were not for these organisations, as it was they who first called for the boycott – a direct reaction from the gay community to the attempt to hijack an event long associated with a large gay audience. Pinkwash backlash in action.

Tel Aviv is a city that prides itself on appearing as a beacon for LGBT politics. With a quarter of its 400,000 population identifying as gay the city is an enormous destination for gay tourists travelling from Western countries and receives countless positive reviews from international gay tourist agencies.

With one of the largest Pride parades in the world, and the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival being hosted there, one would falsely assume that it was an inclusive city.

However, despite this veil of progressiveness, the city overwhelmingly caters for white/white Ashkenazi gay males, whereas other identities, including those of the Mizrahi Jewish population, are predominantly excluded from representation.

Although Israel’s apartheid policy towards Palestinians is far more extreme, the disparities in income and opportunities between different Jewish groups shows also shows the country is far from egalitarian.

On top of anxieties around Israel annexing even more of the West Bank and Gaza, LGBT Palestinians are subjected to extreme blackmailing from the Israeli Defence Forces to become informants, being told that if they do not comply they will be forcibly “outed” to their family and friends.

Reports have stated that Israeli intelligence monitors internet activity and phone calls of Palestinian individuals to identify LGBT Palestinians to target as potential informants.

At the same time, images of killings and beatings of LGBT Palestinians by Islamists are widely shared across Israeli media, especially by Israeli LGBT organisations, to push the narrative that only Israel is a safe haven for sex and gender minorities in the region.

One grassroots organisation among many others challenging this narrative of Palestinian homophobia is the Palestinian-based charity Al Qaws.

Founded in 2007, Al Qaws provides support, counselling and community-building initiatives for LGBT Palestinians and their families.

Al Qaws’s website states that it “runs community centres and events in cities and rural areas across Palestine, operates a national support hotline accessible via phone and online, builds partnerships and alliances in established cultural institutions and civil society organisations, creates innovative media campaigns and works to transform public discourse.”

Al Qaws has been picketing across Palestinian territory speaking out against Israeli pinkwashing and challenging the myth that Palestine is an inherently backward and homophobic nation.

On August 1 this year Al Qaws with the help of over 200 people demonstrated in Haifa, Palestine, “challeng[ing] the false narrative of ‘protection’ used about ‘gay-haven’ Tel Aviv, stating that Palestinian queers do not want to be forced to seek asylum with their occupier.”

Back in Britain the group “No To Pinkwashing No To Israeli Apartheid” has been out leafleting and and picketing Pride parades, allying with BDS and others in the struggle for justice in Palestine. As more Palestinian land is annexed and more innocent Palestinians are killed, more LGBT voices are being raised internationally by those who refuse to see their struggle for acceptance being co-opted by an apartheid state.

Nathan Czapnik is a gay socialist writer of Jewish descent.

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