“Pinkwashing” is the cynical promotion by Israel and its supporters of “free” LGBT bodies as somehow representative of Israeli democracy, obfuscating the reality of apartheid and occupation.
This Pinkwashing Kit is meant to inform and guide you through understanding this particular Israeli PR technique, its backing narrative, goals and tactics, and most importantly how it can be countered effectively.
In this Kit, you will find a collection of materials put together for the purpose of making clear, factual information about pinkwashing accessible and available to a wider audience. It allows activists and organizations to learn from each others’ campaigns and create efficient mechanisms of resistance to pinkwashing.
This kit is intended to be used by students, activists, and organizations and for anyone else interested in learning about pinkwashing and the boycott, sanctions, and divestment campaign against Israel. The documents complement each other, but we encourage users to pick and choose specific documents that prove more relevant to their campaigns.
As a collaboration between alQaws, Pinkwatching Israel, and PQBDS, this kit is the result of a great deal of activist research and planning, and we invite other groups or individuals with up-to-date information to contribute to the growth of this project. All contributions are appreciated, but we are especially interested in visual, audio and video materials.
We hope this kit will be useful as it stands and also as a starting point for a much larger collection of documents and an interactive center of information exchange. We are awaiting your contributions, ideas, and questions concerning pinkwashing and the struggle against it, and look forward to where this all will lead.
What exactly is Pinkwashing?
Israel and its supporters use several PR techniques to re-create the image of Israel in the international arena from one associated with ongoing wars, repression of Palestinians, and occupation of Palestinian lands to one associated with scientific advances, technological breakthroughs, art, culture, and equality (primarily showcasing women and LGBT people). The particular use of LGBT people to this end is what activists have called “pinkwashing”.
Pinkwashing is the cynical use of gay rights to distract from and normalize the settler colonial and apartheid reality that the State of Israel has established on the ground.
Pinkwashing is meant to cover up these violations with a facade of progressiveness and equality. In short, Israeli pinkwashing aims to isolate queer from other identities and make its record on gay rights trump its continued occupation and brutalization of the Palestinian people.
But Israel DOES have a good record on gay rights. What’s wrong with Israel promoting gay rights?
The logic of pinkwashing reinforces the isolation of queer identities from others and conceals the structural inequalities that make certain (Jewish, Israeli) bodies and identities “acceptable” and others (Palestinian, Arab) not.
We must also question the logic of “gay rights” as it is commonly understood and practised – a single-axis politics based on one’s sexual identity to the exclusion of other interconnected injustices based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, and other markers of difference. Gay rights in Israel do not exist in a vaccum: we must also be attentive to the oppression that these purported rights conceal. The laser like focus on “gay rights” in isolation makes one forget that intense forms of sexual regulation practised by the Israeli state that are both gendered and racialized, such as the 2003 law that bars Palestinians married to Israelis from becoming citizens, ultra-orthodox Jewish campaigns for gender segregation in public spaces, and the denial of jewish-jewish marriages inside Israel unless the couple is “converted” according to Orthodox principles. This obfuscation is not unique to Israel: in the United States, many grassroots queer groups have been challenging the myopic vision of mainstream gay rights organizations on formal identity-based inclusion such as equal marriage rights and gays in the military without paying any attention to the ongoing exclusion of queer people of color and the economically disenfranchised.
If we, as activists, are working towards social, economic, and political justice, then we must decouple calls for rights from an indentitarian prism of understanding what those rights are, and resist the project to anchor all politics within the axis of identity.
In engaging in pinkwashing, Israel is not “promoting gay rights”. It is rather using the relative freedom accorded to (Jewish Israeli) gays as a public relations tool. Pinkwashing is not about gay rights at all, but rather a means to justify the continued occupation and colonial settling of Palestinian land.
What does Pinkwashing ‘look’ like?
Pinkwashing takes many forms, and can come directly from the Israeli government, government sponsored organizations or from international organizations and individuals. The Israeli governments and its supporters have taken up the issue of gay rights as part of its propaganda offensive against the Palestinians. Part of this offensive involves recruiting LGBT individuals and other minority groups to make the case for Israel abroad as a bastion of civil rights compared to the Arab world, and hence more deserving of international support regardless of its treatment of Palestinians.
Another example of blatant pinkwashing is the Facebook page Queer Support for Israel which has numerous photos and videos promoting Israel as a haven for gay rights and demonizing Palestinian and Arab societies as barbaric and homophobic. Another is the zionist propaganda organization Stand With Us, whose flyers attempt to promote Israel by demonizing Palestinians.
Pinkwashing can also take the form of speech, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to the United States Congress where he said “ Israel has always embraced this path [of liberty] in a Middle East that has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.” Such a statement brings to mind the civilizing discourses of European colonial powers, which used the figures of oppressed Eastern women to obfuscate the violence they committed unto indigenous populations and whose interventionist policies around indigenous women were used to justify rule. In Pinkwashing we thus find the latest installment of this long history of colonial violence, replacing the “woman question” with the “homosexual question.
Yes, the the Israel state does have legal protections for LGBT Israelis. However, pinkwashing actually has nothing to do with gay rights at all. It is not about Israel or Palestine’s record on gay rights, but about how gay rights are used as a political strategy anchored in Islamophobia and Arabophobia to demonize Arabs and Palestinians, discredit Palestinian resistance, and justify Israeli occupation and apartheid.
One example of pinkwashing that illustrated this point is the widely circulated video about the supposedly gay American activist, Marc, who claimed that he was denied a place on the most recent Gaza Flotilla due to his sexuality. Marc is shown to be a naive do-gooder taken in by leftist calls to liberate Palestine, only to find that the pro-Palestine movement is rabidly homophobic. An attempt to scare off potential supporters of the Palestinian cause, the video ends with Marc warning: “Be careful who you get in bed with, if you hook up with the wrong group, you might wake up next to Hamas”. This video was then exposed by Electronic Intifada as a hoax distributed through Israeli government offices. It was meant to vilify not only Palestinians, but those who support them.
Pinkwashing is made legible in a context where a country’s treatment of its gay population has become the litmus test of modernity and democracy, and where global Islamophobia continues to proliferate in a post-911 world.
What’s wrong with Israel promoting its record on gay rights? Can’t we just acknowledge that Israel does protect its LGBT citizens?
There is nothing unique about Israel’s highlighting of select minority communities in its own PR campaigns. Indeed, almost all states engage in niche marketing of various ethnic and minority groups, and with the growing lucrativeness of the gay tourism industry, several cities around the world have begun selling themselves as gay or gay friendly destinations.
However, we maintain that there is also another, more insidious purpose to this promotion. Berlin does not advertise itself as a gay tourism destination by pointing out the homophobia in Zagreb, yet, the discourse surrounding “gay Israel” almost invariably situates itself in contradistinction to its Arab neighbors. In fact, an examination of Brand Israel, a PR campaign commissioned by the Israeli foreign ministry reveals the numerous ways that Israel actively uses LGBT rights and people as PR tools on the state’s dime with the goal of changing Israel’s image from one of an extremely militarized country to one that is seen as modern and liberal, thus obfuscating the realities of occupation and apartheid.
What about homophobia in Palestinian society?
Homophobia exists in Palestinian society, as it does everywhere else in the world. But again, we reiterate that pinkwashing has nothing to do with gay rights, and the homophobia that exists within Palestine is beside the point.
Homophobia in Palestine is not an isolated phenomenon present solely in Arab or Palestinian societies, but is universal. Tackling homophobia and speaking up about it in Palestinian society is the responsibility of queer Palestinians, not the Israeli government or the propaganda division in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Isn’t Israel helping queer Palestinians?
No. Although in many advertisements and publications Israel is presented as a safe haven for Palestinians fleeing violence in their own communities, it is actually extremely rare for gay Palestinians to flee to Israel from the West Bank of Gaza. It is actually illegal for Palestinians from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or from refugee communities to enter Israel, because of the Israeli citizenship law which does not allow Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza or the refugee camps to hold Israeli citizenship. This law makes it impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to seek asylum in Israel even if they wanted to and are able to get past the enormous number of checkpoints and the illegal apartheid wall.
Nevertheless, Zionists continue to propagate this myth to present Israel as a savior of gay Palestinians.
How can I help in the fight against Pinkwashing?
Becoming more aware of pinkwashing and being able to recognize it are the first steps towards being able to fight it. There are other existing efforts you can join as well, such as the BDS or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. BDS is an effective, non-violent means of resistance to the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies. To learn more about cultural boycott, visit The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). To learn more about BDS and queer activism, visit Palestinian Queers for BDS.
Want to get more involved? Pinkwatch with us! If you notice any events, such as film festivals or pride events on campus, in your community, city or country, that are inviting and/or hosting Israeli government-sponsored or funded groups, document, organize alternative events, raise awareness, promote BDS, and tell us about it.
Vilifying Arabs and Palestinians
- Vilifying surrounding Arab and Muslim countries, painting them as barbaric, uncivilized, and brutal, while portraying Israel as a diverse haven for homosexuals around the world.
- Shifting the standard by which a civilized society is measured from human rights to gay rights.
- Condemnation of Arab countries as a whole as barbaric and backwards. Israel wants people to overlook its numerous human rights violations, and the fact that all Palestinians face discrimination, occupation, or persecution by the Israeli government on a daily basis.
- This framing overlooks the fact that it is legally impossible for a queer Palestinian living in the West Bank or Gaza to seek asylum in Israel, and that even within Israel, there are no equal rights for Palestinian citizens or residents.
Pinkwatching Israel is a global web-movement promoting queer-powered calls against pinkwashing and for BDS. PWI brings together vibrant queer activists from around the world, to imagine, visualize, create and launch campaigns, initiatives, events, actions and reactions to BDS and Pinkwashing.
Palestinian Queers for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions is a group formed to promote and stand for the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, launched in July 2005.
alQaws is a Palestinian queer organization that takes part in a great deal of political activism, including anti-pinkwashing campaigns, as well as working within the Palestinian queer communities in Palestine, Israel and the diaspora. Their site has a wealth of information on queer issues in Palestine/Israel as well as links to other articles and resources.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid works from Toronto in solidarity with queers in Palestine and Palestine solidarity movements around the world.
Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (Quit!) are part of the growing international movement seeking active ways to express solidarity with the people of Palestine. They are based in San Francisco.
News and Information
A Documentary Guide to Pinkwashing documents the history of Brand Israel, “Israel’s campaign to re-brand itself in the minds of the world, as well as the development of pinkwashing as a funded, explicit and deliberate marketing project within Brand Israel”.
Alternative Information Center covers under “Economy of the Occupation” anti-pinkwashing actions and campaigns.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs operates within occupied Palestine, and has a wealth of general factual information about the humanitarian situation in Palestine today.
UNRWA: United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees has a great deal of information, not only on the Palestinian refugee situation, but also on the history of the conflict, and the creation of the situation as it is today.
MidEast Web is a very general but extensive resource on the history of the conflict. Excellent for a quick review or introduction to the subject.
Gay Israel is an Israeli government-run website and is one of the best examples of the use of gay tourism in Israel as a pinkwashing tactic.
Stand With Us is a prime example of an American organization that also utilizes pinkwashing in an effort to re-create the international image of Israel. Especially relevant are their fliers about gay rights.
Israel21c is a California-based pro-Israel organization whose tactics, including pinkwashing, were some of the earliest inspirations for the Brand Israel campaign. Their website contains some of the latest and greatest Israeli propaganda, including pinkwashing.
Queer Support for Israel is a Facebook page and a frequently updated resource for a first-hand view of the latest developments in pinkwashing tactics and rhetoric. It is operated by Scott Piro.
An in-depth look at pinkwashing, its context, and consequences. Use it, share it.
Palestinian Queers for BDS – IGLYO Out of Israel
The IGLYO Out of Israel campaign was a boycott campaign that gained enough momentum and support to successfully pressure the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization (IGLYO) to move their General Assembly out of Israel.
The campaign was launchedby the Palestinian queer groups alQaws, Aswat, and Palestinian Queers for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS) on June 1st, 2011 in response to IGLYO’s decision to hold their General Assembly in Tel Aviv and accept sponsorship and funding from the Israeli government, through Israel Gay Youth (IGY). This decision not only violated the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, but also made IGLYO complicit in Israeli pinkwashing, occupation, and apartheid. The goal of this campaign was to move the IGLYO General Assembly out of Tel Aviv, Israel. After an initial vote of IGLYO Member Organizations that confirmed the IGLYO board’s decision to hold the GA in Tel Aviv, the campaign shifted to calling for a boycott of the GA by IGLYO member and associate organizations. In little over a month and half, the boycott gained enough support from within IGLYO’s membership and associate organizations as well as from international queer organizations, leading to IGLYO’s announcement that it would be relocating the General Assembly.
Censoring Toronto Pride – Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
QuAIA is a Toronto-based organization that stands in solidarity with Palestinians, against Israeli apartheid. QuAIA focuses on pinkwashing as a tool used by the Israeli government to whitewash the continuation of the apartheid system. They also support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel until it adheres to international law.
QuAIA has faced a great deal of opposition in Canada from Zionist groups that brand them as ‘anti-semitic’ or as an ‘LGBT anti-Israel hate group.’ In 2010 the same Zionist organizations tried to have QuAIA banned from Toronto Pride by interpreting a Toronto anti-discrimination policy to include the use of the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ as discriminatory. Initially, Toronto Pride banned the use of this language at pride, a de facto ban of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. However, many in the queer community protested this decision as censorship, and after a successful campaign and the powerful symbolic action when 23 ‘Pride Awards’ winners refused their awards, Toronto Pride removed the ban. QuAIA, supporters and allies marched in 2010 Toronto Pride “Aagainst Apartheid”. The struggle is still going on, see what QuAIA has to say in Toronto Pride Parade 2011 to “Toronto City Hall”.
Anti-Pinkwashing Activism in the International Tourism Fair in Berlin
In 2011 a group of queer activist from Berlin attended the International Tourism Fair in Berlin (ITB) to protest the inclusion of Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, a campaign led and funded by the Israeli government. These activists distributed cards and fact-sheets about Israel and the occupation, and also conducted an interview with the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe representative who quickly turned hostile when asked about Israeli democracy, the occupation, and the Israeli government’s lack of support for the revolution in Egypt. Although Tel Aviv Gay Vibe was allowed to participate in the fair, this kind of activism raised awareness about pinkwashing while directly confronting the hypocrisy of the Israeli government and its policies.
“Out Against Apartheid” – Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism
QUIT is an American queer organization that works to combat Israeli apartheid through BDS, protests, and distribution of information. QUIT has an ongoing campaign to stop the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and Frameline, the organizers of this festival, from accepting money for the Israeli government, and thus becoming complicit in Israeli pinkwashing, occupation, and apartheid. So far this campaign has been unsuccessful, with Frameline continuing to accept Israeli funding under the threat that refusal to do so will result in the festival being branded as ‘anti-Jewish.’ QUIT is continuing its efforts, and have developed a large phone, email, and fax campaign among individuals and queer groups in the region, as well as having organized an ‘Out Against Apartheid’ guerrilla-style advertising campaign.
Queer Arab Activists expose the Israel-linked GayMiddleEast.com
A group of Arab activists and human rights organizations have issued a statement about the Israeli-linked group GayMiddleEast.com (GME). In the statement, which has been endorsed by a growing list of groups and organizations across the Arab world and globally, queer Arab groups were able to delegitimize a very vocal pinkwashing organization that tries tpelling evidence that GME has systematically tried to conceal its founding in and extensive ties to Israel and that GME representatives Dan Littauer and Shabi Assa’s decision.