The upcoming marriage equality and plebiscite bills provides a great opportunity to consider how governments and parties are politically rebranded. The rise of support for single issue queer politics, like marriage equality, aids racist and colonialist institutions by enabling them to cast themselves as ‘progressive’ through a practice called “pinkwashing”.
In Israel, the government is putting millions of dollars into a branding campaign to detract away from its treatment of Palestinians. Israel attempts to pinkwash its reputation by framing itself as a “gay haven” located in the Middle East through activities like funding gay Israeli advocacy groups and running gay tourism campaigns.
This strategy aims to normalise the Israeli occupation and larger apartheid policies and to reframe the occupation in terms of civilizational narratives measured by (sexual) modernity. It is also a countermove against the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which has cultivated widespread grassroots mobilisation against Israel’s brutalities.
As pointed out by Al-Qaws, a Palestinian queer advocacy group, it is irrelevant whether Palestinian society is homophobic or not. The alleged concern for queer people in Palestine conceals Israel’s direct culpability in oppressing Palestinians.
Israel is framed as the only gay-friendly country in an otherwise queer-hostile region, done through pinkwashing and the use of orientalist tropes; positioning Israelis as civilised and egalitarian, and Palestinians as homophobic, barbaric, and anti-cosmopolitan.
This messaging recruits, often unknowingly, queers from overseas into a collusion with Israeli state violence. It denies Israeli homophobic oppression of its own queer citizens and it dismisses the work of Palestinian queer organisations.
We must see Israel’s promotion of its gay rights record abroad for what it is – pinkwashing and another mechanism for justifying Israel’s colonial violence. We must challenge this false benevolence about liberal inclusion and single-axis identity politics. We can do this through promoting the Palestinian liberation struggle as relevant to queer movements and by building an activist practice that does not separate itself from struggles against colonialism, racism, and neoliberalism.
There can be no freedom of gender and sexuality without freedom from Israeli state violence and control. Queer rights are not safe until all people’s’ rights are safe. We neglect other struggles at our own peril as all our struggles are bound together.