Detractors of Israel delight in accusing it of pinkwashing, which they characterize as “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life” (see Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’ by Sarah Schulman). This accusation, however, is nothing more than a smokescreen for promoting hatred against Israel. I will analyze here Schulman’s piece as an example of this accusation. I chose this piece because it is relatively well-written and it lacks the vulgarity that is often found in anti-Israel rhetoric.
The accusation relies on several assumptions which are all false:
- That LGBT rights in Israel are a façade and not a reality (Schulman minimizes LGBT rights in Israel by noting that “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic”). Every country on earth, even the most gay-friendly, has some clerics and some politicians who are homophobic, but Schulman conveniently fails to note that such clerics and politicians are vastly more powerful in Muslim and Arab countries than in Israel. The fact that Israel holds yearly large pride events in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beer Sheva, Petah Tikva, Hadera, Ra’anana, Eilat, and Rishon LeZion (while the Arab world has never allowed a single pride event anywhere ever) should have clued in Schulman to the fact that in Israel such politicians have little power.
- That LGBT rights in countries surrounding Israel are acceptable (Schulman claims “the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations”). BBC tells us that “according to some estimates, there are now 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living and working in Israel. Their willingness to live there – despite the risk of being detained and deported as a security threat – is due to Palestinian attitudes towards gay men, they claim.” (See BBC report Palestinian gays flee to Israel) The rest of the Arab and Muslim world is comparable to the Palestinian territories, and in some cases worse. While in Israel, by Schulman’s own admission, homophobia is limited to some conservative and religious politicians, in the Arab and Muslim world such politicians are all there is.
- That LGBT rights in a country are not an indicator of the country’s overall human rights record (Schulman says that “Increasing gay rights have caused some people of good will to mistakenly judge how advanced a country is by how it responds to homosexuality”). The 81 countries where homosexuality is illegal (see 81 countries where homosexuality is illegal) are all countries with poor human rights records. There isn’t a single liberal democracy on that list. The correlation between LGBT rights and general human rights is very clear.
- That Israel stands in the way of a Palestinian state (Schulman says that “rights for some gays should not blind us to […] the Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home”). As I have demonstrated in a previous blog (see Arab/Israel Conflict: Palestine Delayed), Arabs have had many opportunities to create a Palestinian state but have repeatedly refused to do so. Blaming Israel for that failure is the pinnacle of hypocrisy.
- That Israel has a poor record on human rights (Schulman accuses Israel of “human rights violations like mass incarceration”). Israel has in fact one of the best human rights records in the world, and in some respects it has the best record. Israel routinely calls ahead before airstrikes on terrorist targets to try to avoid civilian casualties while knowing that this will also allow terrorists to escape. Israel also routinely cancels airstrikes because civilians appear to be near the terrorist target. No other nation takes these measures. Those who hate Israel will of course continue to claim that any military or police action by Israel, no matter how necessary for the defense of its citizens (including the incarceration of convicted criminals), is a human rights violation. The rest of us, however, are under no obligation to take them seriously.
The gay community should be outraged at the fact that so-called LGBT rights activists use this valid and important cause as a smokescreen to promote hatred of Israel. When one sees self-appointed gay rights activists demonizing a liberal democracy and ignoring abuses against gays in Palestinian territories, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and all the other neighbours of that liberal democracy, one wonders if the activists actually support gay rights.
As of this writing, same-sex marriage, the ultimate equality right, is a reality in 16 countries, but on the other end of the spectrum, and as noted earlier, homosexuality is illegal in 81 countries. There is no question that in legal terms the fight for LGBT rights in liberal democracies has largely been won. Pride parades in liberal democracies are still important but now they are mostly celebrations rather than political demonstrations. Gay rights activists now need to turn their attention to the rest of the world where the battle is just starting.
While privileged gay activists who have never experienced homophobic violence in their lives indulge in hateful attacks against the only Jewish state, the rights of gay people in most of the world are ignored, and the attacks against them are minimized and hidden by the people who claim to care about them the most. In some countries, including Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates (see 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death), homosexuality is punished by beatings, stoning, hanging, or other gruesome torture or killing, but so-called gay activists in the West close their eyes and parade against Israel.
Gay rights activists may celebrate hard-won battles if they wish, and many of them deserve to celebrate, but if they care about the rights of all humans on this planet (as opposed to only their own privileges), they must speak up about gay rights in Africa, in Arab countries, and in Muslim countries, and they must not let misplaced political correctness stand in their way. They must stop the childish demonization of the only country in the Middle East where the rights of gays are protected and promoted, and they must take up the difficult and not always pleasant task of advocating for gay rights in places where such advocacy is less fashionable but sorely needed.