FIRST PERSON

OPINION: The Case Against Pinkwashing, Or Why I’m Gay For Israel

 

Imagine a nation that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, allows gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, provides domestic-partner benefits in the private and public sectors, recognizes gay adoptions (and gay marriages performed abroad), has LGBT celebrities whose careers haven’t been hurt by their coming out, and saw more than 100,000 people attend its most recent Pride parade—even though the whole country is smaller than the state of New Jersey?

What if I told you that, despite being one of the most pro-gay democracies on Earth, this country is under fire from the gay-activist set?

You may have guessed: I’m talking about Israel—a country that, when it comes to Pride, proves size doesn’t always matter.

As an American Jew born and raised in New York, my connection to Israel as a child was somewhat limited. I wasn’t one of those cool kids whose family did a bar mitzvah tour of the Western Wall, but I do remember being extremely annoyed receiving as gifts, certificates of trees that were planted in Israel in honor of my becoming a “man.”

But I lived in Israel for two years after high school and have made several trips back since. I am active and support various LGBT organizations in Israel and other pro-Israel organizations in the USA.

I’m not exactly sure what Zionism really means today. But “Zionism” was my winning word in a game of Scrabble during a Fire Island Pines weekend back in 2008.

My love and passion for the State of Israel actually matured after I came out: I truly felt comfortable in Israel as a country that supported and accepted my two greatest identities: gay and Jewish. It was amazing to be in a place that provides legal protection to LGBT people and has a rich cultural gay life—and simultaneously embraces my Jewish identity. It felt like home.

But lately my home is being attacked by other gays, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that makes me uncomfortable and even angry.

Many vocal queer activists are accusing Israel of using its positive record on LGBT rights to divert national and international attention away from Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. They’ve created a term for this: Pinkwashing.

In the New York Times op-ed “Israel and Pinkwashing,” Jewish lesbian writer and playwright Sarah Schulman defines the term as “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

Pinkwashing is a misleading term because it implies that Israel’s treatment of gays is merely a stunt, which is completely invalid. Are pinkwashing activists really suggesting that the richness and diversity of pro-gay life there is all a conspiracy by the government to distract me from other issues within the region? It would be hard to make up the reality that is gay life in large swaths of Israel.

You really can’t invent a climate of not just tolerance, but acceptance, for the sole sake of propaganda.