Leading LGBT activists, artists and cultural workers: oppose pinkwashing and support BDS

An open statement and petition is circulating by leading voices from the LGBTIQ communities demanding that queer individuals and allies join in solidarity with “Palestinians and progressive Israelis who are working to end the occupation, oppose the state of Israel’s practice of pinkwashing; and support efforts on the part of Palestinians to achieve full self-determination including building an international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The statement — found online at www.queersolidaritywithpalestine.com — was written by participants of a recent LGBTIQ delegation to Palestine. It reads, in part:

What we witnessed was devastating and created a sense of urgency around doing our part to end this occupation and share our experience across a broad cross-section of the LGBTIQ community. We saw with our own eyes the walls—literally and metaphorically—separating villages, families and land. From this, we gained a profound appreciation for how deeply embedded and far reaching this occupation is through every aspect of Palestinian daily life.

So too, we gained new insights into how Israeli civil society is profoundly affected by the dehumanizing effects of Israeli state policy toward Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank. We were moved by the immense struggle being waged by some Israelis in resistance to state policies that dehumanize and deny the human rights of Palestinians.

We ended our trip in solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli people struggling to end the occupation of Palestine, and working for Palestinian independence and self-sovereignty.

The statement adds that the Israeli government’s tireless pinkwashing efforts to portray Israel as a haven for queer people — while violating the basic human rights of Palestinians on a daily basis, and enforcing an entrenched system of apartheid and discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as inside the state itself — should be internationally criticized and rejected.

We call out and reject the state of Israel’s practice of pinkwashing, that is, a well-funded, cynical publicity campaign marketing a purportedly gay-friendly Israel to an international audience so as to distract attention from the devastating human rights abuses it commits on a daily basis against the Palestinian people. Key to Israel’s pinkwashing campaign is the manipulative and false labeling of Israeli culture as gay-friendly and Palestinian culture as homophobic. It is our view that comparisons of this sort are both inaccurate – homophobia and transphobia are to be found throughout Palestinian and Israeli society – and that this is beside the point: Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine cannot be somehow justified or excused by its purportedly tolerant treatment of some sectors of its own population. We stand in solidarity with Palestinian queer organizations like Al Qaws and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (PQBDS) whose work continues to impact queer Palestinians and all Palestinians.

… We urge LGBTIQ individuals and communities to resist replicating the practice of pinkwashing that insists on elevating the sexual freedom of Palestinian people over their economic, environmental, social, and psychological freedom. Like the Palestinian activists we met, we view heterosexism and sexism as colonial projects and, therefore, see both as interrelated and interconnected regimes that must end.

Equality Forum cheerleading Israel, helping to pinkwash

Recently, Tel Aviv was named “Best Gay City of 2011” by GayCities.com and American Airlines.

Also announced this month was the Equality Forum’s “Featured Nation: Israel” program. The Equality Forum is one of the top non-profit LGBT education and advocacy groups in the US — and under a large photo of an Israeli flag and a headline that boasted of Tel Aviv’s victory as the gayest city of last year, it has posted a list of events related to Israel. Most notable on the schedule — apart from the plethora of DJs scheduled to perform — is the planned appearance and keynote speech to be given on 5 May by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US:

Michael Oren, as we’ve reported, was a paratrooper in the 1982 Israeli war on Lebanon, a military spokesman for Israel’s 2006 attacks on Lebanon, and was a public relations officer for the 2008-09 attacks on Gaza. In February 2010, eleven Muslim students at the University of California at Irvine were compelled to speak out and protest Oren’s speech in which he defended Israel’s policies in Gaza and the attacks that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, including several hundred children. Readers of The Electronic Intifada will know that ten of the students — dubbed the Irvine 11 — were charged and convicted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office for their peaceful protest against Oren.

Sherry Wolf, lecturer, writer and queer activist, tweeted today about the Equality Forum’s decision to cheerlead for Israel:

As Benjamin Doherty reported for The Electronic Intifada a couple of weeks ago, “Israel’s strategy of pinkwashing – using its supposed support for gay rights to deflect criticism of its violence and oppression against Palestinians – was recently outed in The New York Times, so niche market appeals for tourism may just inspire more calls for boycott.”

Indeed, as the LGBTIQ delegates’ statement and petition points out, the global BDS movement is growing. The statement goes on to read:

We support efforts on the part of Palestinians to achieve full self-determination, such as building an international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which calls for the fulfillment of three fundamental demands:

  • The end of the Occupation and the dismantling of the Wall (jidar).
  • The right of return for displaced Palestinians.
  • The recognition and restoration of the equal rights of citizenship for Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent.
  • We call upon all of our academic and activist colleagues in the US and elsewhere to join us by supporting all Palestinian efforts that center these three demands and by working to end US financial support, at $8.2 million daily, for the Israeli state and its occupation.

Delegates’ statements online

Some of the delegates who participated in the LGBTIQ trip to Palestine wrote moving testimonies of their experiences there; and The Feminist Wire (TFW) has posted them on their website. Part one of the two-part “Forum on Palestine” was posted today, and includes this sample statement, by librarian and fiction writer Vani Natarajan.

Visiting Palestine as part of the LGBTQ delegation allowed me to observe, witness, and listen. It also exposed me to inspiring signs and stories of popular resistance. So much of the movement against the occupation involves the active vision and participation of women, of queer people, of youth and elders together.

Resistance to the Israeli occupation includes an active refusal to support the Israeli state and its allies. The US government and US corporations all too often constitute the worst offenders. The 2005 call for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as issued by Palestinian civil society organizations gives people around the world a method for supporting the movement to end the occupation. This method can, and should, prioritize the needs of people most directly affected by the occupation. I think of the BDS call as not just something frozen in 2005, but as an actively developing set of voices and strategies. It’s beautiful to see how multifaceted the BDS movement in Palestine is. Meeting feminist and queer organizers, among others in Palestine, has inspired me greatly. Now that I have returned to the US, I feel like my work is only just beginning. I’m excited to be alive while this movement grows, and to learn more about practices of solidarity within it.




Thanks for posting the petition and bit about Equality Forum. I've been in touch with the other speakers on Pinkwashing along with me at Philly's upcoming BDS conference. Hopefully, we can drum up interest in an active boycott and potential action vs. Equality Forum's celebration of apartheid in May. I spoke to EF's director on the phone the other day, what he lacks in understanding about the Arab world he attempts to make up for in arrogance. I plan to write a piece on this in coming days.
In solidarity, Sherry Wolf


To Nora:
This sentence in your article is completely incorrect:

"In February 2010, eleven Muslim students at the University of California at Irvine were compelled to speak out and protest Oren’s speech in which he defended Israel’s policies in Gaza and the attacks that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, including several hundred children."

Oren didn't talk at all about Israel's military actions or policies at all. In between the disruptions, his speech was about a historical review of the relations between the United States and Israel.

Do you fact check things?

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).