In the world of BDS activism “pinkwashing” has become the new black, but like most fashion trends, it’s all style and no substance.
The BDS movement often incorporates catchy, but unsubstantiated phrases like “ecological imperialism,” “homonationalism,” and “pinkwashing” into their activism. The catchphrases vilify Israel and sound incriminating to those who have not done further research. This article will examine pinkwashing, the claim that Israel exploits its LGBTQ+ community to deflect international attention away from violations of human rights.
The idea of pinkwashing was initially coined by breast cancer awareness groups who were critical of the commercialization of the movement and accused brands of using breast cancer iconography while simultaneously promoting practices harmful to women’s health. The term has since expanded to describe any entity that promotes social justice causes as a marketing tool. In the world of international activism, it refers to Israel’s record on LGBTQ+ rights.
BDS activists accuse Israel of several “washing” offenses in just about every color of the rainbow (pink, purple, yellow, green, and blue to name a few). In doing this, they refuse to recognize any positive attributes of Israel or her people and construct straw man justification for their baseless rhetorical attacks against Israel’s democracy. Pinkwashing in particular is unique, as it undermines the achievements of LGBTQ+ movements in the Middle East and in many cases is done without merit.
The rhetoric of pinkwashing implies that Israel feigns support for LGBTQ+ communities and that this support has the ulterior motive of positive media attention. The reality is that if Israel did not support LGBTQ+ movements, they would not be protected in the country. No government would go as far as to provide legal protections to a group they fundamentally disagree with for the sake of virtue signaling.
Israel has an undeniably strong record of protections for LGBTQ+ communities including allowing gay men to donate blood (something the US does not do), protections against discrimination, the outlaw of conversion therapy, legal gender changes, and protections for LGBTQ+ community members serving in the military. On the EqualDex, Israel scores an 88/100 for legal rights provided to LGBTQ+ people. For context, the US scores a 97/100, while Palestine scores a 7/100.
Israel does not brandish its LGBTQ+ record, especially not as a means of detracting from their policy in Palestine. Israel’s protections for the LGBTQ+ community are rooted in democratic values and a commitment to human rights. While Israel has reason to be proud of being the most progressive state in the Middle East on queer issues, it does not prioritize and publicize its record over all else.
Israel’s support of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t a new development and is certainly not a response to international criticism. Since the 1990s, Israel has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ policy and was among the first states to recognize gender reassignment surgery and ban discrimination of sexual orientation in the workplace. Israel allowed same-sex couples to adopt and legalized open queer military service before the United States. All of these developments occurred far before the introduction of social media and were done based on democratic values, not mere virtue signals.
The idea of pinkwashing delegitimizes Israel’s LGBTQ+ movements and portrays the nation as an inherently evil entity. Though Israel should not be exempt from criticism regarding LGBTQ+ rights, to dismiss it as a mere ploy distracts from the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities in the country.
Israel is certainly not perfect, and neither is Palestine, nor any country in the diaspora. Some political decisions made by the Knesset are downright deplorable. Criticism of specific Israeli policy is valid, however, what we are seeing reaches far beyond criticism. The repeated use of maximalist language to describe Israel evokes a situation similar to the boy who cried wolf. When BDS activists attack every move Israel makes with hysteria and hyperbole, they lose the ability to describe reality when genuine threats occur.
Accusations of pinkwashing shut down attempts at discourse between Israeli and Palestinian activists, and perpetuates continued hostility. A rainbow of accusations of “washing” paint Israel as a universal evil and actively undermine positve efforts the country makes. Loaded language in place of genuine reconciliation prevents Israelis, Palestinians, activists in the diaspora, and LGBTQ+ communities all across the world from achieving the peace that is so desperately needed.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.”