Members of No to Pinkwashing – No to Israeli Apartheid will be joining the LGBT Pride march in London this Saturday. Colin Wilson explains the background of the campaign.
“Pinkwashing” is a cynical Israeli PR strategy, which relies on the claim that Israel has a good record on LGBT issues to divert attention from the Israeli state’s crimes against the Palestinians. Two years ago, the Israeli army circulated a staged photo showing two soldiers holding hands – it turned out that they were not a couple, one was straight, and they both worked for Israeli army PR.
The Israeli authorities have invested millions in promoting Tel Aviv to affluent gay men. Two years ago it was named the “best gay city in the world” by American Airlines, and images of toned young men partying in speedos at Tel Aviv Pride appear each year in the LGBT media. Yet there is plenty of homophobia in Israel. Interviewed by the BBC last year, drag star Dana International, who won Eurovision for Israel in 1998, recalled that she hadn’t faced discrimination early in her career in Tel Aviv, but added “Of course, if you go to Jerusalem, to an Orthodox neighbourhood, you’re going to get a bottle in your face. That’s the problem in Israel.”
The homophobic mayor of one Israeli city has claimed no LGBT people live there. Moshe Atbul of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party stated that “We have none of those things here. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.” In December, a bill legalising same-sex marriage was voted down in the Knesset. A gay Israeli MP claimed at the end of 2013 that liberal, pro-gay Israel is a myth for overseas consumption, while another argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses LGBT issues in speeches in English, but never refers to these issues when he speaks in Hebrew for an Israeli audience.
Pinkwashing is part of the Israeli government’s wider “Brand Israel” strategy – a major propaganda effort to present Israel as a cultured, modern, high-tech tourist destination. It’s a response to the worldwide shift of public opinion against Israel that’s reflected in the growing success of the movement for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions. That shift of opinion reflects, of course, the reality in Palestine – military occupation, the apartheid wall, and one Palestinian child killed every four days on average by the Israeli military. That’s what pinkwashing is meant to hide.
When London-based campaigners first campaigned on the Pride March in 2012, they weren’t sure what reception they might get. But they got a warm reception, gave away hundreds of postcards and staged a successful stunt in Trafalgar Square, waving huge Palestinian flags as Israeli acts performed on stage. That action formed the basis of a campaign video. This year the group has hosted Haneen Maikey, director of Palestinian LGBTQ group Al-Qaws, who spoke at a well-attended meeting in February – and campaigners have also joined protests against G4S, and outside an LGBT tourism event where the Israeli Tourist Board participated.
No to Pinkwashing has established links with UNISON, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and London Palestine Action. Campaigns around pinkwashing seem to enthuse both LGBT campaigners and Palestine activists, perhaps providing a new angle and energy for both sides. No to Pinkwashing welcomes anyone who wants to come along on Saturday and help.