Drag night in Gaza City

You have to admire the kind of “random” Google mechanism by which a timely article about the Iran-Israel showdown is immediately preceded by a Google Ad for “Pinkwatching Israel,” which is (according to the ad) “a movement towards queer BDS israeli pinkwashing.”

First, there is no such thing as “pinkwashing.”

Second, it’s toward, not towards.

Third, that’s Israeli with a capital, bitches.

And fourth, what’s BDS? Blower Drive Service? British Deer Society? Oh,  dear, I don’t think it’s either of those, but I do think some “Arab queer activists” have latched onto something as seemingly innocuous as gay tourism to vent their venom against Israel. This group’s Website’s homepage makes the specious claim that “Israeli efforts…portray Arab societies as backwards (sic), repressive and intolerant.”

Well, guess what world? That’s because they are. No Israeli effort needed (and none made, for that matter.) When was the last time you saw an ad in Travel & Leisure for a drag night at some bar in the Gaza Strip? Maybe while you were tripping on MDMA oops, I mean MDNA? And any idea where homosexuality gets you in sophisticated Beirut? I won’t go there (again).

Jokes aside, it’s dismaying that Google that would take money from a group that trades on distortion so huge in scope it could be called hallucinogenic.

Sadly this is not the first instance of a misguided attempt to frame a modest tourism success story in anti-Israeli terms. Last fall The New York Times permitted its pages to be tainted with the same kind of garbage.

The short item I wrote in response to that I reprint in italics below. With the hope of helping to untangle a very toxic alliance.


There was once a time when the very idea of Lady Gaga posing nude for Tony Bennett could have shocked; now even the reality of it raises scarcely more than an eyebrow – if that. If numbed by a surfeit of information the erstwhile audacious has become downright humdrum, the outrageousness of ignorance still packs the power of a sucker punch. And that isn’t much fun for anyone.

Neither is the specious argument, put forward by Sarah Schulman in her hollow, caustic piece “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’”, published last Nov. 22 in The New York Times, that gay people have something to do with unresolved issues in Israeli and Middle East politics.

First, though least significantly, for any writer to declare that an obscure quote from a dead poet resonates across an entire population is poppycock – today’s global gays are more apt to quote Gaga than Yeats, which is not necessarily a bad thing – and in any event pop music can do and does more to mend fences than muddled thinking from academic fantasyland. As for the responsibility Schulman alludes too, well, I think I’ll quote one of Madonna’s B-sides: “Just read, baby, history.”

But has that professor read anything besides anti-Israeli propaganda? It is almost unfathomable that a putative educator, gay, lesbian, or otherwise, would equate the courting of the gay market in Israel with something morally and politically toxic. As someone who graduated from the bubble of the classroom to the reality of the marketplace years ago, I can prove in a nanosecond that any tourist board worth its weight in ruby slippers will bend over backwards to promote gay tourism – from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, to Montreal and its “Gay Village” by way of Curacao and way beyond – and in this regard, to woo this desirable market, Tel Aviv and Israel are no different – if anything, they are late to the game.

How do I know this? Because just over a year ago, I was asked by The New York Times to file a short report on the subject of Gay Tel Aviv. I pitched my editor on the story not in response to anybody’s marketing campaign – I paid for my trip myself, in keeping with my strict no comp policy – but out of basic journalistic interest and an awareness that more people in-the-know — gays among them — were choosing to vacation in Israel without a thought for incorporating the country’s traditional holy sites into their itineraries. And I found that the cultural, culinary and other city scenes are going strong, with gay life relevant to many of these, but that the issue of homosexuality itself in Israel is largely a non-issue. In fact, it’s kind of boring.

Can the same state of affairs be said to exist in the West Bank? Sorry, but I doubt it. I don’t know if Schulman has ever bothered to meet a gay Palestinian, but I have – not in Ramallah, but in Tel Aviv. And whatever adjustments to the Palestinian penal code there may have been since the 1950s, that  young man was very grateful indeed to be in a country where homosexuality is neither a crime on paper nor in practice. Now, the West Bank is no Saudi Arabia, but I can tell you that going back to the black of a sexually repressive society was the last thing on his mind.

Schulman, as a professor, is doubly responsible for fact-checking her strained worldview before opening the window wide upon it — and the view from Staten Island, where the writer teaches, does seem a little fuzzy: the assertion that there is a valid “global gay movement” against the Israeli occupation, for example, must be categorically refuted. There is not even a consensus on what does or does not constitute occupation. In academia, it means one thing. In the media, it’s something else. On the ground and in terms of international law, the term is subjective, and I’d say the jury is still out.

Not content to take her misguided aim at freedom of sexual expression in Israel, the writer sets her sights, bizarrely, on always-entertaining gay columnist and porno wunderkind Michael Lucas for having shot a film in Israel. I don’t know if “Men of Israel” was filmed on the site of a former Palestinian village any more than I know my hometown in California sits on the site of a former Chumash Indian settlement (early accounts by Spanish missionaries indicate that it might), but I do know that there is solid archaeological evidence of both Arab and Jewish settlement in the Levant that predates not only the era of Cher before her wigs, but also the current dark age of political correctness.

Moreover, some scenes of said film were actually filmed near a beach north of Tel Aviv. I haven’t seen the film in question – perhaps I have less interest in gay male porn than Ms. Schulman – but Mr. Lucas told me so himself: we used to be in the same fitness class at an upscale gym in Chelsea.

On the whole, and regrettably, Schulman’s odd tirade adds up to a heap of misandrist bunk, and would be almost laughable were it not for the unambiguous attempt to draw a thorny line between gays and politically-motivated violence. This is pseudo-intellectual bullying of the lowest order, and jeopardizes everything from gay youth in the Middle East to gay travelers in North America who are choosing of their own accord to explore the singular, vibrant and egregiously misunderstood country of Israel in ever greater numbers.

A debate about whether or not Lady Gaga should strip down for an 85-year-old crooner can and should take place over a cup of tea, or maybe a strong Israeli coffee, but any attempt to build an argument (however ill-informed and flimsy) that gay rights and marketing to gays so they can exercise those rights perpetuates hate or political stalemate — let’s not be pokerfaced about it — deserves nothing less than swift, noisy and public demolition.

Because quite the opposite is true. Israel and Tel Aviv are beacons for sun-deprived gay Germans and human rights-deprived Palestinians alike. I’m not saying tourism is the answer to all the region’s ills, but in a part of the world chronically infected by outmoded thinking and agenda-filled invective, thinking pink might not only be a good start, but a necessary one.