Earlier this month, after being contacted by The Electronic Intifada, the Associated Press retracted the false claim that same-sex sexual relations are illegal under Palestinian law.
No longer able to disseminate this fabrication, AP has seemingly come up with new tactics to smear Palestinians and put a positive gloss on Israel.
In a story today on a documentary profiling a Palestinian citizen of Israel who lives in Tel Aviv as a gay man, AP states:
The liberal Israeli city is considered a gay refuge in an otherwise largely intolerant Middle East, where in some places, gays are persecuted and sometimes killed. Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Some gay Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have fled their conservative homes to come out in Tel Aviv. Even in Jerusalem, the same gay friendly climate does not always thrive.
This paragraph from a news story does an immense amount of propaganda work on behalf of Israeli pinkwashing.
Pinkwashing, as I explained in a 2013 lecture (watch video), is a public relations strategy that deploys Israel’s supposed enlightenment toward LGBTQ issues to deflect criticism from its human rights abuses and war crimes against Palestinians and to seek to build up support for Israel among Western liberals and progressives.
First, there is the claim that Tel Aviv is a “liberal Israeli city” that provides a “refuge” to gay Palestinians. As I’ve noted, this claim, often based on unverifiable anecdotes, is a staple of Israeli pinkwashing.
But a 2008 Tel Aviv University study of the handful of known cases – “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum-Seekers in Israel” – found that Israel subjects Palestinians to particularly atrocious treatment, expelling them precisely because they are Palestinian. There is no legal framework that allows any Palestinian from the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip to seek asylum in present-day Israel.
Israel’s foundational laws and policies are designed precisely to keep Palestinians out, as they are considered a “demographic threat.”
The man profiled in the AP story, Khader Abu Seif, can live in Tel Aviv because he is one of the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who, though citizens, face multiple forms of systemic discrimination and violence. But he is not there because of any Israeli policies offering “refuge.”
The AP story is sure to note that Abu Seif “is critical of Israel, his country of citizenship, over its policies toward Palestinians but also criticizes the Palestinian society, where homosexuality remains taboo and where there is little tolerance for gays.”
Everything has to be “balanced” – but why does the report not note that large segments of Israeli Jewish society – pretty much everywhere outside “liberal” Tel Aviv – consider homosexuality taboo and offer little tolerance for gays?
Killings and stabbings
Six people were stabbed at a gay pride march in Jerusalem today, leaving two in serious condition. The attacker, who was arrested unharmed, has been identified as Yishai Schlissel, a resident of Modiin Illit, an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Schlissel had published a pamphlet last week stating that it was a religious duty for Jews to stop the “parade of sins” at all costs.
He carried out a similar attack on the 2005 march when he wounded three people. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison but Israel’s high court reduced the sentence.
Tel Aviv – which is built over the mass graves of ethnically cleansed Palestinians – is, moreover, the only city in the region where an LGBTQ center was the target of an anti-gay terrorist attack that killed two people and injured 10 in 2009. Other regional cities, including Amman and Beirut, have establishments identified with gays and lesbians, but none, thankfully, has ever been subjected to such horror.
Tel Aviv is not only hostile territory for the vast majority of Palestinians, whether they engage in same-sex relations or not. It has been the site of the most violent and racist demonstrations, pogroms and attacks against refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers from countries in Africa especially, Sudan and Eritrea, as journalist David Sheen has long documented.
What’s Iran got to do with it?
Then there is this tricky sentence:
Same-sex relations are punishable by death in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Some gay Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have fled their conservative homes to come out in Tel Aviv. Even in Jerusalem, the same gay friendly climate does not always thrive.
Instead of using the report as an opportunity to dispel the myth that AP and others have spread for years that same-sex sexual relations are illegal for Palestinians, the AP report remains silent on that.
But it gratuitously adds sweeping claims about countries as far away as Iran and Mauritania.
Yet there is no explanation whatsoever of why Iran or Saudi Arabia are relevant to a story on a Palestinian in Tel Aviv. Was Abu Seif considering moving to Tehran or Riyadh?
One should wonder what sort of arbitrary definition of the “Middle East” AP now employs: Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott is more than 4,500 miles from Tel Aviv and hundreds of miles west of London.
The only link appears to be that the inhabitants of the countries mentioned are predominantly Arab or Muslim or both – broad labels that do not do credit to the vast differences among them.
This again reflects a key Israeli pinkwashing strategy which is to subsume Palestinians into a mass of presumably indistinguishable Arabs and Muslims as if there are not vast differences in histories, practices and legal regimes in each of these places.
But if the situation in Iran or Mauritania is supposedly relevant in a story about Palestinians, then why doesn’t AP mention the repressive situation in Israel in counterpoint to the claims of tolerance?
Israel does not have same-sex marriage – the new standard for measuring the “liberalism” of countries around the world.
But the AP report makes no mention of the fact that Israel does not even have any form of civil marriage and does not allow interfaith marriages. Even Jews can only marry each other according to a strict government-sanctioned version of their religion.
In other words, the propaganda image of Tel Aviv in particular, and Israel in general, as welcoming and “liberal” is never tested in this kind of propagandistic reporting against lived reality.
And if the assertion that “gays are persecuted and sometimes killed” in Iran, Mauritania or Sudan is relevant to a story on Palestine, then why shouldn’t AP mention sexual repression and even abuse in Jewish Hasidic communities, whether in Israel or elsewhere, as a counterpoint to Israeli “liberalism”?
I am not arguing for making such associations or generalizations. I am making a point about AP’s double standard.
Israel, after all, purports to be the “Jewish State.” Therefore if anything “Muslim” – even as far away as Iran or Mauritania – can be invoked to reflect on the experiences of Palestinians, then surely anything and everything that is “Jewish” and “repressive” should be mentioned in any story on Tel Aviv!
The AP would of course never adopt such a strategy when it comes to Israel. And if it did, it might rightly be accused of bigotry or even anti-Semitism.
But such considerations do not apply when it comes to Palestinians, where AP’s agenda has always been to endorse and serve Israeli propaganda by all means.