Not in our name
Published: Monday, April 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012 11:04
After a year of activism on campus, the Israeli occupation is alive in the minds of many students at Tufts University. “BDS: Undermining Peace”, an op-ed published in The Tufts Daily on April 4, was part of a larger discourse of student perspectives and analyses of social justice issues from positions of power and privilege, a discourse that has tried my patience and my hope for a productive dialogue — not just at this university but in our society at large.
Although most, if not all, of this author’s allegations about [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)] and Butler’s speech could easily be refuted (and here I encourage the author to follow his own advice and seek more information), I will focus on one particular sentence that broke the proverbial camel’s back:
“The BDS movement disproportionately singles out the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country in which women and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community have equal rights.”
This appeal is nothing new, and has come to be labeled as “pinkwashing” by many analysts of the minutiae of the Israeli occupation. Pinkwashing is a form of advocacy that has been championed by Israel; advocates of the current policies of the Israeli government engage in systematically offering an image of an LGBT-friendly Israel to the international community in an effort to distract from the atrocities committed against the Palestinian people. The argument is certainly a weak one, but it has been very effective: “How could a progressive and liberal ‘democracy’ also be guilty of apartheid or ethnic cleansing?” This line of thinking is offensive to any individual who wishes to engage the issue of Israeli occupation with serious political, academic and personal integrity. Anyone who is convinced to dismiss claims against Israel’s actions through this argument is gravely ignorant of modern political reality and naively equates liberal democracy with an inability to violate human rights.
Having said that, allow me to describe some of the overwhelming evidence of the pervasiveness of Israeli pinkwashing. Recently, Tel Aviv was elected the most gay-friendly city in the world after the Tel Aviv tourism board reportedly spent $90 million in a branding campaign. This included hosting film festivals, subsidizing gay cruises to Tel Aviv, financing pro-Israel movie screenings in the United States and depicting same-sex couples lounging on the beaches of Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli news site Ynet. A popularized YouTube video depicts a purported LGBT activist expressing where his true loyalties are (with Israel) because he wasn’t allowed to participate on the freedom flotillas run by “Hamas-supporting Islamists” who refused his help because they hated gay people. Although the video was promoted by the Israeli Government Press Office, it turned out to be a fake, starring a relatively unknown actor from Tel Aviv. The goal was clear: paint the flotilla organizers and Gaza supporters as Islamists diametrically opposed to LGBT rights.
Indeed, pinkwashing neither begins nor ends with Israel. It is a new form of violence that few queer people, and even fewer who live in the larger hegemonic and heteronormative society, have yet to recognize and combat. Let us take an example from Tufts University a couple weeks back. “No one at this is school is racist,” claimed the writer of a March 14 op-ed, and to somehow prove the point, he said “Gay pride flags hang from the windows of almost every dormitory and fraternity on our campus.” Though this may be true, it distracts from the issue at hand: racism at Tufts. No matter how much we love this university, as an institution Tufts does participate in societal systems of power and oppression, some directed at the queer community as well. Libraries could be filled with stories about these microaggressions. A parliament of flags across our campus could never erase the oppression lived out on our bodies.
The “Out in Israel” campaign landed at Tufts this past year and is funded in part by subsidies from the Israeli government. This campaign seeks to inform youth, especially college-aged youth, about how awesome being open about your sexuality is in Israel. However, being “out” in Israel is far from glamorous or painless. There are scant protections for transgender individuals in Israel, and marriage equality is a distant dream for the “democracy,” whose theocratic policies prohibit even non-religious heterosexual marriages. Dozens of prominent figures and high-ranking rabbis publicly condemn homosexuality. A gunman in Tel Aviv, 2011’s most gay-friendly city, opened fire in a gay club in 2009. There is no safe country in this world to be queer, and Israel is no exception.