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Pinkwashing Israeli genocide: Queers for Palestinian Liberation

Morgan Oddie

January 16, 2024
In the midst of the Israeli onslaught, with tens of thousands dead in Palestine, the State of Israel took to their official X (Twitter)account to showcase a member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) raising “the first pride flag in Gaza as a call for peace and freedom.” In the literal ruins of Gaza, Israel claims to be liberating people from Hamas brutality. Although LGBTQ+ political propaganda has been de facto state media strategy for years, this example is an abhorrent showcase that must be resisted. This type of pinkwashing is the deliberate strategy to obfuscate Israeli human rights violations. 
The ethical reasoning of pinkwashing (less commonly referred to as rainbow washing) aims to rally support for occupation around a new logic of homonationalism. The myth of Israel being the only bastion of democracy in the Middle East aligns with a convenient narrative of LGBTQ+ inclusion which is counterposed to the homophobia of some predominantly Muslim states. The homonationalist logic thereby requires queer and trans folks in the West to support the Israeli regime in the vision of queer futures in the Middle East. 
As atrocities of the Israeli genocide have been witnessed by the international community at an increasing rate since October 7, the neoliberal rights paradigm of divide and conquer has never been more salient. 
Pinkwashing is a term often associated with Jewish queer writer Sarah Schulman’s widely read2011 New York Times article, which called out the Israeli exploitation of LGBTQ+ rights to promote racism and xenophobia. But homonationalism is a larger part of imperialist agendas, by which foreign intervention can be justified through yet another avenue. LGBTQ+ rights – often disregarded by imperialist powers within their own borders – get utilized as a marker of cultural progress and in defense of occupation under the guise of democracy.
As Jasbir Puar’s 2007 Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times articulates, queer tolerance and acceptance has become a barometer for evaluating rights to and capacities for national sovereignty. The international transplantation of LGBTQ+ rights is informed by the intentional omission of class struggles that contextualize them. It’s no accident that Western imperialists often shorthand their drives to homonationalism as “gay rights” because it is precisely the white cis gay man as a perfect neoliberal subject that has hijacked queer liberation movements in the West. This is the vision of export most convenient to state capitalist interests. 
Critics of the term “pinkwashing” point to the etymological implications of false advertising, because in fact, Israel’s legal protections for LGBTQ+ rights are relatively progressive. But this misses the point entirely by removing these rights from other structural oppressions. It also silences queer Palestinian voices and flattens multi-issue struggles. Given the violent apartheid regime that had turned Gaza into an open-air prison, indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians in “mowing the grass” practices, and specifically targeted journalists, aid workers, and healthcare workers for death, there is a hardly a moral high ground from which to throw rainbow confetti. Lauding Tel Aviv as a safe haven for queers and a site of gay tourism ignores that Palestinians who go there are without the same working and living rights as Israelis because of racist state policies. As Ghadir Shafie, Palestinian queer activist writes, “It is therefore the moral duty of Palestinian activists speaking in international platforms to understand the dynamics behind Palestinian queer visibilities in our local contexts, and recognize pinkwashing as both an international strategy which concerns Israel’s global brand, and an internal agenda that aims to divide and rule.”
It is a fallacy to extract queer liberation from the struggles of other oppressed peoples and an erasure to assume that there are not queer Muslims fighting for justice and queer Palestinians fighting for the right to self-determination. The monolithic counterpoint to Israeli pinkwashing is the homophobic Arab – a figure ripe for condemnation by Islamophobic and racist sentiments. 
The homonationalism enacted through Israeli pinkwashing propaganda has encouraged endorsement of occupation. It is imperative that queers on Turtle Island act in solidarity with resistance in Palestine, knowing that international struggles for liberation are inextricable. Ghaith Hilal, from AlQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, states “You cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism, and other oppressions exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.”

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