Pinkwashing and the Gay International

The International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization (IGLYO) announced this week that it will host its upcoming General Assembly in Israel with direct Israeli government financial sponsorship. Since March, activists have appealed to the IGLYO board of directors, but IGLYO clearly intend to violate the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

In their announcement, they acknowledge the dilemma of hosting their international events in Israel but deny that direct government sponsorship of their event interferes with their human rights mission.

IGLYO fundamentally disagrees with any violations of human rights and does not prioritise human rights or any particular group during any of our work. The concern has been raised that by hosting an event in Israel and accepting funding through government departments IGLYO support various political views of that government. IGLYO believe this to be untrue.

Although this event will be given some level of financial support by the Israeli government, this will in no way censor our debates and discussions.

The General Assembly will be hosted by Israeli Gay Youth (IGY). This organization

was established in 2002 … in order to provide social support net to LGBT and questioning teens. … IGY operates different leadership and outreach programs, designed to empower our teens, and train them to be the future leaders of not only the gay community, but the entire Israeli society.

Encouraging LGBT youth to serve in the military

On 12 December 2010 at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (the IDC), two IGY leaders participated in a 5 member panel discussion about gender and sexual orientation in the Israeli army.

The purpose of the panel is to raise awareness of the issue of the difficulties and coping of gay and lesbian youth in the military framework in the IDF and to recruit volunteers who will serve as mentor/escorts for youths within the ‘mentor/escort before recruitment’ project, with the goal of allaying their concerns with regard to their military service.

IGY’s ongoing “empowerment group” to support young gay men provides yet another example of the organization’s effort promote military service among gay youth:

This group started out as a group for gay soldiers who were coping both with military service and with their early days as independent civilians, and later developed into a group that investigates the meaning of gay life in the adult world. Participants deal - among other things - with issues of becoming independent, meeting people, relationships, family, and more.

Palestinian Queers for BDS (PQBDS) noted these links between the Israeli military and Israeli Gay Youth when they wrote to IGLYO to ask them to reconsider the locale of the 2011 General Assembly.

IGY is one of the main LGBTQ youth organizations in Israel; unfortunately, not only is it complicit with Israel’s policies, but it also systematically promotes and proactively supports the same structures that oppress and discriminate against Palestinians. As we have already mentioned in our first letter, IGY works closely with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in recruiting young queers to the army – a clear proof that IGY is not only a gay organization, but a homonationalist one that plays an active role in maintaining the same oppressive political system that we are working hard to resist. IGY’s leadership proudly serves in the army, and organizationally recruits LGBTQ youth to serve openly in the IDF. Their “unique” program includes soldiers who work to support LGBT youth pre/during service.

PQBDS also notes that “a few of IGY’s leaders were part of the [IGLYO] committee that was in charge of taking this very unfortunate decision.” In fact, last year IGY and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted IGLYO board members on a trip to Tel Aviv Pride.

Pinkwashing is a failure

In recent years, Israel has promoted itself in Europe and North America as a haven for LGBT rights and freedoms. Israeli government ministries and NGOs are participating in this public relations and marketing effort. Activists have named this campaign “pinkwashing” because it’s a distraction from the fundamental problems of the Israeli occupation: ongoing and systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Now even the democratic revolutions in the Arab world are presented as a threat to LGBTQ people in the Arab world, but the pinkwashing critique is also catching on. A Gay Girl in Damascus writes:

We’ve gotten used to being used rhetorically by the advocates of war, occupation, dispossession, and apartheid as ‘evidence’ that the primitive sand-people don’t deserve anything other than killing by the enlightened children of the West; we’ve seen this story used to advocate murder of Afghan villagers, Palestinian refugees, Iraqis and so on. …

Which of course is crazy. And like any tool of oppression needs to be opposed.

Israel’s pinkwashing campaign has serious and apparent contradictions. Israel’s most vocal and enthusiastic base of support in the U.S. is the “religious right,” which has always opposed LGBTQ political causes. It’s hard to see how Israel can simultaneously promote itself as LGBTQ-friendly while enjoying financial and political support from these powerful friends in the United States who are so notoriously LGBTQ-hostile.

Thanks to Dena Shunra for providing translation.


Palestinian Queers for BDS has issued a Call for Action: Tell IGLYO to Get Out of Israel.




I am right behind you on this and am disgusted by the plans of the IGLYO, but could you refrain from using the phrase 'the Gay International'? It's generally used by those who oppose the assertion of gay identity and gay rights to imply that there is some shadowy movement trying to push the agenda onto cultures where such notions are not somehow culturally valid. Yes it's an international gay organisation, but there are also international, national, regional and local gay organisations who understand and respect the complex interaction of sexual identity, geopolitics, culture, nation, occupation and the rest (such as the Toronto Queers Against Israeli Apartheid you featured recently).

Please don't use 'the Gay International' phrase, as its a crude sledgehammer phrase designed to undermine the work of gay rights campaigners in general, including those with a sophisticated approach and those who know that to stand up for Palestine and to stand up for gay rights are not incompatible. Thanks and keep up the good work at E.I.


For me, the lack of solidarity is what distinguishes the Gay International. IGLYO has shown us that it has no solidarity. They chose to ignore the legitimate and principled appeals to boycott.

But they’ve no solidarity with me either. Israel is supported by the most virulently anti-LGBT organizations in the United States. The political power of these homophobic and Islamophobic right-wing groups is bolstered by their alignment with U.S. interests in the Arab world. So while IGLYO endorses Israeli apartheid, they also legitimize the political power of groups who actively oppose civil and human rights for LGBT people in the U.S.

Many groups engage in real solidarity, which is hard work and requires listening and learning. Internationalism at this grass-roots level can be a very positive thing, and LGBT identity is perhaps just an opportunity to connect as equals.


... was revealed as a hoax, a blog written by a white male in the UK.

That doesn't mean its commentary is wrong, of course, but it shouldn't be cited as a Syrian source.