‘Pinkwashing’: Israeli pride and the peace process

If I asked whether the Obama administration was using its record on healthcare reform to excuse its policy on Syria, what would you think?

You might well have strong opinions on either subject – perhaps that healthcare reform was a brave but costly step, or that the White House should put its money where its mouth isn’t quite on Syria. But looking at the two together? For most people, the one has very little to do with the other.

Now, change the Obama administration to “Israel”, healthcare reform to “gay rights” and Syria to “Palestine”, and ask the question again. Except that you don’t have to: Time magazine has helpfully done it for you in this week’s issue. Writes one David Kaufman:

“Around the world, major Pride events are being used as battle grounds to combat what some pro-Palestinian, progay activists are calling pink washing: Israel’s promotion of its progressive gay-rights record as a way to cover up ongoing human-rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“The accusations stem from efforts over the past half-decade by the Israeli government to weave the country’s gay-friendly policies – including national hate-crime laws, employment protection for LGBT workers and openly gay military service – into its larger national-rebranding strategy, in the hopes of redirecting its global image away from politics, terrorism and the occupied territories.”

The writer then goes on to look at the debate in more detail, as you can read here, discussing various controversies at gay rights events involving pro or anti-Israel groups.

He adds: “Israel does have some of the world’s most progressive LGBT policies, yet its also mired in an illegal, militarized West Bank occupation.”

The article is not an unbridled attack on Israel. But I’m at a loss to understand its point.

There are certainly some interesting points to be made in the way in which the gay-rights movement interacts with the pro-and anti-Israel causes. I’d love to read an article on the subject.

But why assume that Israel’s support for gay-rights is about something other than improving the rights of gay people?

Yes, Israel does, as Kaufman puts it, promote its “progressive gay-rights record” as one example of its democratic nature, but what country doesn’t promote its achievements?

Every government in the world seeks to make political capital from the things it does well; see Britain with the Royal Wedding, Obama with the bin Laden triumph, Jamaica with its good weather and freely-available rum.

Hell, every job applicant in the world focuses on the good points when trying to make a public persona. It doesn’t mean they are not aware of their faults. And if I write that I have good shorthand on my CV, I’m not trying to “excuse” my rubbish French, I’m just pointing out my strength in a different area. The one does not compensate for the other and I’m not trying to convince anyone it does.

But when it comes to Israel why is it that celebrating one aspect of the country automatically implies that you are consciously ignoring another?

The argument Israel presents to the world isn’t “We’re nice to gay people so we can be super-mean to those darn Palestinians” or “gay pride was great, so stuff the peace process”. It’s that of any country in the world; celebrate what you do well and work harder at the things you don’t.

I’m a regular reader of Time magazine, have been a subscriber for years. But this, and last year’s similarly disingenuous cover story on “why Israel doesn’t care about peace” seem to me be fishing-trips in finding a provocative new angle on an age-old story, however tenuous.

Sometimes, there’s more to what’s going on in the Middle East than land and religion.

That doesn’t mean everything that happens in the region is about land and religion.


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