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Why Israel Uses Pinkwashing In Attempts to Legitimize the Occupation of Palestine

Pinkwashing under the Israeli apartheid is evident through its Tel Aviv pride festival, Rainbow Generations tour, and utilization of a transgender Israeli officer. Whereas, pinkwashing in the United States is visible under the Trump administration’s decriminalization platform, its alliances with anti-LGBTQ nations, and its initiatives to further isolate the LGBTQ community. Thus, I argue pinkwashing is used by Israel and the United States as rhetoric to respectively promote regressive politics in Palestine and Iran, while briefly discussing its use in France. 

This article intends to accomplish a systematic presentation of pinkwashing by analyzing both the political situation in Palestine/Israel and between the United States/Iran. More specifically, I will dissect how Israel and the United States manipulate sexual politics to assert regressive agendas, where sexual politics regards the LGBTQ community.

Pinkwashing in Israel to demonize palestine and legitimize the occupation

In order to assess the ways in which pinkwashing has fully impacted Palestine, a contextual background regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine is needed. It developed in response to Jews escaping persecution in Europe and finding refuge in a predominately Arab-Muslim territory of the British Empire. This ignited a battle for land between Israel and Palestine (where Palestinians were forced to defend themselves) to which Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza strip from Palestine. Israeli occupation has confined these Palestinian territories to bloodshed. This is evident when you observe the events that took place between March 2018 – November 2018 and even currently. In response to Palestinian demonstrations, Israel has killed 189 Palestinians with live fire, a number separate from the 5800 wounded. Israel has repeatedly violated human rights provisions by abusing its occupational position. With its hand dipped in Palestine, Israel is able to display a democratic persona, while simultaneously exhausting the tendencies of an authoritarian regime. Israel justifies its occupation by declaring Palestine as a repressive nation through the manipulation of its LGBTQ community. 

In effort to divert attention from its occupation in Palestine, the Israeli apartheid has invested large sums in tourism initiatives such as Tel Aviv’s Pride Festival. The purpose of this festival is to profile Israel as gay-friendly and prove ‘its reputation as the Gay Capital of the Middle East, and perhaps even one of the Gay Capitals of the World.'”

In effort to divert attention from its occupation in Palestine, the Israeli apartheid has invested large sums in tourism initiatives such as Tel Aviv’s Pride Festival. The purpose of this festival is to profile Israel as gay-friendly and prove “its reputation as the Gay Capital of the Middle East, and perhaps even one of the Gay Capitals of the World,” per Tourist Israel: The Guide.

By positioning itself as the gay capital of the Middle East, the foundation for Israel’s sovereignty over Palestinian territory is made clear. When engaging in this liberal persona, Israel is drawing a dramatic contrast between itself and the remaining Middle Eastern countries. This contrast creates an implicit dichotomy that renders the Arab/East Asian World, specifically Palestine, as a “barbaric homophobic, uncivilized” (Paur 138) regime and Israel as the progressive safe haven. This persona enables Israel to justify its regressive politics in the name of sexual liberation. 

Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Ramallah are being characterized with a modernity framework that intends to persuade LGBTQ individuals living in places such as the Gaza strip “to leave their conservative towns” (Lemant) and find refuge in these secure spaces. And within this persuasion we observe the peak of Israeli pinkwashing. Focusing on Palestinian homophobia undermines the presence of homophobia in “all hetero-patriarchal societies” (Zak 13). It even dilutes the attention from Israel’s anti-LGBTQ politics. On March 12, 2018, the Israeli government extended surrogacy eligibility that excluded the LGBTQ community. As dictated by Netanyahu, the Israeli government “voted in favor of a law for mothers” (Moritz-Rabson), while disengaging this opportunity for same-sex couples. This is significant because it exposes the crude structure of Israeli politics.

When engaging in this liberal persona, Israel is drawing a dramatic contrast between itself and the remaining Middle Eastern countries. This contrast creates an implicit dichotomy that renders the Arab/East Asian World, specifically Palestine, as a “barbaric homophobic, uncivilized” regime and Israel as the progressive safe haven.

Pro-Israel propaganda of the Tel Aviv pride festival has been relocated to the United States and recycled as the Rainbow Generations tour hosted by a pro-Israeli propaganda organization called StandWithUs. This tour features lesbian and gay activists promoting Israel’s progressive reputation through international discussion. The Rainbow Generations tour was scheduled for Seattle, Washington on March 16, 2012. This event was cancelled a day prior in response to a group of local activists that highlighted the “false narrative” (Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back) this event would perpetuate.

The presence of this tour undermines the intersectional identities of queer Palestinians. This event is a political ploy by the Israeli government to hide their war crimes not only aimed at Palestinians, but queer people alike. A consequence of withdrawing intersectional activism is the manipulation of the far-right agenda to mimic those belonging to the LGBTQ community. The LGBT Commission of Seattle issued a letter apologizing for the cancellation, while stating “We could not facilitate a neutral space for dialog and learning and keep the conversation focused on LGBTQ issues versus the larger issues of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.” (Pinkwashing Exposed: Seattle Fights Back). The commission did acknowledge the underlying issue of hosting such an event, but the nature of an apology letter details this cancellation as a mistake, and fuels the propaganda of pinkwashing by pro-Israeli organizations. 

The global initiative to reconstruct Israel’s image is not limited to the Rainbow Generations tour. In March 2017, StandWithUs had curated an event that has again involved the Seattle LGBT Commission. This event featured Lt. Shachar Erez, a transgender officer of the Israeli military. In a letter to the commission, Dean Spade, an LGBTQ activist, characterized this event as a tactic “to respond to worldwide opposition to the outrageous harm and violence toward Palestinian people perpetrated by the Israeli government.” (Spade). The purpose of the event was to engage in a fruitful discussion on how Lt. Erez introduces the LGBTQ community to the Israeli armed forces.

To the American public, this discussion creates a friendship between Israeli Forces (or what Israel calls Israeli “Defense” Force/IDF) and the LGBTQ community, thus categorizing the Israeli Forces as pro-LGBTQ. The Israel Forces being an extension of the Israeli government extends this kind, modern person to Israel as a unit. This relays the message of a modern Israel, but powers a fabricated frame that confines the reality of LGBTQ Israelis. The surrogacy law described above is not only a definitive example of this, but disproves the propagated platform to which the Israel apartheid resides. It discredits their justification of occupying Palestine based on its oppressive and conservative politics. 

When observing how this rhetoric is used under the Israeli apartheid, two key points are made clear. (1) The presence of LGBTQ Palestinians is denied through the utilization of homonationalism. Homonationalism is recognized as a vehicle for pinkwashing and is defined as a “brand of homosexuality [that] operates as a regulatory script not only of normative gayness, queerness, or homosexuality, but also of the racial and national norms that reinforce these sexual subjects.” (Puar 2) It is important to regard pinkwashing as a rhetorical tactic used to promote progressiveness and homonationalism as a phenomenon in which sections of the LGBTQ community “achieve legal equality with heterosexuals” (Sinanovic) and then celebrate racial and religious supremacy; and, (2) Normalizes occupation and apartheid under an disingenuous LGBTQ friendly image. 

The presence of LGBTQ Palestinians is denied through the utilization of homonationalism. Homonationalism is recognized as a vehicle for pinkwashing and is defined as a “brand of homosexuality [that] operates as a regulatory script not only of normative gayness, queerness, or homosexuality, but also of the racial and national norms that reinforce these sexual subjects.”

How France’s far right Has Used Pinkwashing

Extending beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, homonationalism is visible in France in which the anti-LGBTQ policies we’ve observed in the Israeli occupation of Palestine are displaced by anti-Islamic policies. Far-right French 2017 presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has gained the support of “traditionally left-leaning gay voters” (Adamson) partly influenced by the nightclub shooting by Omar Mateen in Orlando, Florida. Le Pen labelled Mateen’s actions as anti-LGBTQ by recognizing the negative propaganda circulating about his Islamic heritage. Such propaganda describes Islam as being an oppressive and misogynistic religion. She used his actions to confirm the propaganda and ultimately defined Islam as anti-LGBTQ. As a result, her campaign was perceived as pro-LGBTQ and gained the support of left-leaning gay voters.

Much like the Rainbow Generations tour and its effect on queer Palestinians, Le Pen’s association between Islam and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric undermines the existence of queer Muslims. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude her initiative on the Orlando shooting is not to support the LGBTQ community; rather it is to gain a backing for her anti-Islamic policies. This is evident when you observe Le Pen’s campaign intended to make gay marriage illegal as well. A right for the community that was necessary to fuel her anti-Islamic campaign. This shows that the anti-LGBTQ and anti-Islamic policies can be manipulated to challenge each other, when both stem from right-wing agendas. 

pinkwashing in the United States

To fully analyze the use of pinkwashing in the United States a brief discussion on the conflict between the United States and Iran is necessary. The tension between the United States and Iran has escalated under the Trump administration, but has been developing since 2002. In 2002, Iran was revealed to be creating nuclear facilities that included a uranium enrichment plant. Under the Obama administration, a nuclear deal was created to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions, while relieving it of economic sanctions. There was much controversy following the construction of this deal because of Iran’s anti-LGBTQ laws. The Trump administration abandoned the deal and reinstated the economic sanctions, thus eluding its disengagement to be a result of Iran’s anti-LGBTQ laws. This is reasonable to conclude when you observed Trump’s platform “to end [the] criminalization of homosexuality” (Lenderman) in 2019. This granted Trump the opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty. A relevant example was Trump threatening to impose economic sanctions on the countries and firms that continue to purchase Iran’s oil. However, the pinnacle of Trump’s agenda was exposed when a United States drone killed General Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general, on Iraqi territory. 

Much like the Rainbow Generations tour and its effect on queer Palestinians, Le Pen’s association between Islam and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric undermines the existence of queer Muslims. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude her initiative on the Orlando shooting is not to support the LGBTQ community; rather it is to gain a backing for her anti-Islamic policies.

The execution behind the Trump administration and of the Israeli government are different in this sense. Trump is exploiting the LGBTQ community to remove attention from his subliminal agenda, whereas the Israeli apartheid is utilizing its LGBTQ public to hide behind a progressive and modern label. Nonetheless, both are accomplished under the rhetoric of pinkwashing to extend their country’s sovereignty. 

The extent of U.S. pinkwashing was demonstrated with Trump’s platform supporting homosexuality as introduced above. The initiative was spearheaded by Richard Grenal, “the highest-profile openly gay person in the Trump administration” (Lenderman). This is significant because it developed the integrity of the platform, catalyzing a powerful propaganda tool. The creation of this program was cited to be a direct result from the hanging of an Iranian man charged for homosexual intercourse; an act punishable by death in Iran. This emphasized the human rights allegations imposed against Iran, while implementing an angelic glow upon the United States. Grenell highlighted the importance of the platform by stating, “barbaric public executions are all too common in a country where consensual homosexual relationships are criminalized and punishable by flogging and death.” (Lenderman) This can be recognized as another means to which the Trump administration expands its sovereignty. When Grenell used this rhetoric to emphasize anti-LGBTQ laws, he was also challenging U.S. allies who engage in the same behavior as Iran in regard to LGBTQ politics.

However, by concentrating on Iran, this platform initially hinders the assessment of other countries. As this program progresses, U.S. allies such as United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are pressured to redesign their anti-LGBTQ laws to be more accepting. This not only allowed the Trump administration to fully capitalize on the Iranian LGBTQ politics, but also created “a powerful axis against Iran” (Lenderman). By justifying it as a tool to develop U.S. control, the subliminal intentions of the program were revealed.

The fabricated platform of Trump’s decriminalization initiative was further supported when you analyze the laws and statements enacted during the Trump administration. Prior to presidency, Trump said, “No, I’m not in favor of gay marriage.” (Glaad) Despite same-sex marriage being legalized under the Obama administration, Trump commented to appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn this law. Yet, there has not been any movement to absolve this law because it is necessary to present the United States as LGBTQ friendly. Therefore, the U.S. government can use this law as an umbrella to hide under. This enabled the Trump administration to: (1) cancel initiatives that would add the LGBTQ community to the 2020 U.S. Census; (2) deny contraception to “women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people” (Glaad) based on religious rationale; (3) reduce protections for incarcerated transgender people; (4) banned transgender service members from participating in the U.S. armed forces; and, (5) pressure Supreme Court to remove the protection offered to LGBTQ employees against sex discrimination. All of which disproved Trump’s decriminalization platform and justified the United States use of pinkwashing.

The rhetoric of pinkwashing under the United States government perpetuates a false narrative. (1) It allowed the Trump administration to introduce platforms that aid the LGBTQ community, only to later use it as a shield to counter any opposition. (2) it further marginalized the LGBTQ community.

pinkwashing is propaganda

Based on the evidence provided, the Trump administration, Israeli apartheid, and French National Front exhausted the media to satisfy their initiatives. They manipulated (and continue to manipulate) the media by circulating their false rhetoric. And it is this consistent circulation that displaces the truth with a constructed narrative.

My conceptualization of pinkwashing is similar to the mechanics of a fan. The wings of a fan move in rapid circulation — and because of this movement you cannot see what is behind the fan, only what is painted on its wings. From this analogy, pinkwashing is the paint, the rapid circulation is the manipulation, and all actions are controlled by a remote that rests in the hands of the manipulator. 

Pinkwashing is the exploitation of the LGBTQ community to implement regressive programs that benefit the manipulator. Based on the visibility of pinkwashing in the Israeli government, the former Trump administration, and the French National Front, it is reasonable to conclude this rhetoric is used by a selected few. Thus to “pinkwash,” a pre-existing condition must be met: the satisfaction of power. And power coincides with the supreme class. The demolition of pinkwashing is crucial to dismantle the agendas of the powerful few. 

Several steps can be taken to disengage pinkwashing in the political sphere: (1) investigate the reason behind a certain initiative till you cite its roots. If an organization’s recent policies starkly contrast with its initial policies, its new platform is most likely being used to satisfy its old agenda; and, (2) Protest events like the Tel Aviv parade. This brings attention to the event that can be repurposed as an educational tool, while simultaneously diluting the power of pinkwashing.

I have not found active political platforms that directly challenge the rhetoric of pinkwashing. However, there are conferences, such as “Homonationalism and Pinkwashing” hosted by Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, that can be propelled through the media and reaffirmed by politicians to disseminate pinkwashing. The purpose of this conference was to generate a fruitful discussion on using gay rights as a tactic to enforce a confined agenda. The discourse provided by this conference can be introduced to the political sphere by politicians. And it is this framework that will bring the reality of pinkwashing to light. I say this because pinkwashing is not visible to those not impacted by it. Thus, the pro-LGBTQ agenda of far-rights will not be challenged by the majority. Introducing anti-pinkwashing rhetoric to the political game by credible politicians is an effective model to confront pinkwashing. 

Works Cited

Adamson, Thomas. “’Pinkwashing’ Populism: Gay Voters Embrace French Far-Right.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 7 Apr. 2017, apnews.com/35ec96903d9444e9942396505d635981/pinkwashing-populism-gay-voters-embrace-french-far-right.

Chrisafis, Angelique. “’We Don’t Want You Here’: Muslims Fearful as France Prepares to Vote.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 May 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/05/france-muslims-fear-frustration-runoff-vote-marine-le-pen.

“Donald Trump.” GLAAD, 9 Apr. 2020, www.glaad.org/tap/donald-trump.

Lazenby, Quinn. “Queer Mongering.” The McGill Daily, 2018, www.mcgilldaily.com/2018/10/queer-mongering/.

Lederman, Josh. “Trump Administration Launches Global Effort to End Criminalization of Homosexuality.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 19 Feb. 2019, www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/trump-administration-launches-global-effort-end-criminalization-homosexuality-n973081.

Lemant, Mark, et al. “Pride and Prejudice: The Hellish Life of Gaza’s LGBTQ Community.” Haaretz.com, 25 June 2019, www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-pride-and-prejudice-the-hellish-life-of-gaza-s-lgbtq-community-1.7403501.

Moritz-Rabson, Daniel. “Protests Break out in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, after Bill Preventing LGBT Surrogacy Is Passed.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 20 July 2018, www.newsweek.com/protests-erupt-israel-lgbt-surrogacy-law-approved-1034931.

Paur, Jasbir. Citation and Censorship: The Politics of Talking About the Sexual Politics of Israel. 2011.

Puar, Jasbir K. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press, 2007.

Sinanovic, Jasmina. Homonationalism and Pinkwashing. CLAGS, 2013. 

Spade, Dean. Pinkwashing Expose:Seattle Fights Back. Youtube, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfpvrsZ-LtU.

Spade, Dean. “Resist Pinkwashing in Seattle NOW!” Dean Spade, 25 June 2019, www.deanspade.net/2017/03/29/resist-pinkwashing-in-seattle-now/#more-1304.

“Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. June 12, 2020.” Tourist Israel, 13 Jan. 2020, www.touristisrael.com/tel-aviv-gay-pride-parade/3809/.

Zak, Emily. Pinkwashing Settler Colonialism. 2016.