Pinkwashing? Pink-eye!

The truth is that, when it comes to Israel, too many on the progressive left can't see straight

There are no few on the left who argue that Israel tries to use its record of support for Gay-Lesbian-Bi-Sexual-Transgender (GLBT) rights as a way of covering up its “problematic” record on Palestinian rights. This is termed “pinkwashing.”

Last year, Sarah Schulman wrote a controversial op-ed on pinkwashing, which has received no small attention among the adherents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) initiative against Israel. Last week, her employer, the City University of New York, announced that it would be holding a conference on the subject, entitled Homonationalism and Pinkwashing.

Pinkwashers on parade? A gay pride event in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Omer Messinger/Flash90)
Pinkwashers on parade? A gay pride event in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Omer Messinger/Flash90)

The argument is in essence that things that are good about Israel are irrelevant so long as Israel has not conceded to Palestinian demands. One could, of course, note that Israel has not abandoned its responsibility to provide security for its citizenry, and that the “oppression” of Palestinian citizens is the result of Israel enforcing secure borders. The “pinkwashing” argument really amounts to this:

It doesn’t matter how inclusive and supportive Israeli society is. Because Israel is not willing to abandon the security of its citizens, it should be persecuted and boycotted.

The reality of the situation is that it very much should matter. But opponents of Israel, including Jewish critics, feel a need to create a narrative wherein what is a very inclusive liberal democracy, which provides far more freedoms to its citizenry than the vast majority of nations in the world, is portrayed as an oppressive, exclusivist nation. This transition allows for criticism and even hatred of Israel by otherwise-progressive thinkers:

  • Israeli support for GLBT issues and civil rights, instead of being seen as exemplary, something to promote worldwide, is undermined and negated as irrelevant or as political ploy.
  • Israeli support for South Sudan in its fight for freedom is totally ignored.
  • The contributions of Israelis to science, the arts, industry and even political thought are ignored or written off as irrelevant, not worthy of protection, much less promotion.
  • Israeli medical teams helping to save lives around the world in the aftermath of crises are seen not as examples of tzedakah and compassion, but simply as PR stunts.
  • The treatment of a multitude of injured or ill Palestinians, who still are not at peace with Israel, in Israeli hospitals every year is ignored. The failure of a handful to cross checkpoints vital to securing Israeli lives is promoted as the norm.
  • The long history of persecution of the Jewish people and the continued calls for further persecution — or worse — of Jewsby the very people against whom Israel must secure its borders is totally ignored or deemed irrelevant.
  • Israeli society, a multiracial, multinational, multi-ethnic democracy with a vibrant political debate, is condemned as if it were fascist or apartheid because it has no choice but to secure its population against those among the Palestinians who would do it harm.
  • Israel’s people, rather than being seen as more knowledgeable about the situation in which they live than we in America, are seen by some as drunk drivers whose car keys must be confiscated.

But whose perspective is so skewed as to appear befuddled?

Israel is a tiny nation amid a sea of people who would love to see it cease to exist. It is a democracy amid tyrannies. Of course it has its problems. I will not pretend that I do not have my own issues with its religious bias against progressive Jews, or conceal my own hopes that its laws will one day change to better fit its democratic nature. However, I know that, were it not for Israel, millions of Jews would be suffering in lands where not only would their freedom not be protected, but their lives would constantly be threatened.

It isn’t that Israel is “pinkwashing” its record. Rather, the truth is that, when it comes to Israel, too many on the progressive left have pink-eye, a sickness that clouds their vision of what is truly before them and skews their understanding of the people and the conflict. 

About the Author
Rabbi David Kaufman is the Rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also the President and Co-Founder of We Are For Israel, the home of "Centrist Advocates for Realistic Peace" and created the news site about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, Rabbi Kaufman maintains an informational blog on which he posts sermons and other materials related to Jewish practice and belief at