OPINION: Pinkwashing Israeli politics at Tulane


Cliff Soloway | Contributing Photographer

On Tuesday last week, Shai DeLuca-Tamasi visited Tulane to share his experiences as a gay man and former sergeant in the Israeli Defense Forces. DeLuca-Tamasi spoke about coming out in the military and the acceptance he received from his unit. 

He launched a defense of the Israeli gay rights movement through a misrepresentation of the history of pinkwashing and overlooking Palestinian experiences. The event, hosted by Tulane University For Israel, perpetuated racist anti-Arab tropes that rely on false Israeli exceptionalism.

The term “pinkwashing” refers to Zionist propaganda that portrays Israeli society as inherently more LGBTQ+-friendly than surrounding Arab and North African countries. Israeli officials initially conceived this cooptation of queer struggles in 2005, following three years of advice from U.S. marketing agencies, and named it the Brand Israel Campaign. In 2010, the Tel Aviv tourism board took the effort up a notch when it invested $90 million into promoting the city as “an international gay vacation destination.” 

This propaganda fund has never supported queer Israelis; instead it bankrolls marketing events like film festivals abroad.

Outside of direct Israeli governmental investment in pinkwashing, independent Zionist organizations have also taken up the call to tokenize queer communities on an international level. A fellow at StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group based in the U.S., told an Israeli paper that he saw Pride parades as a way to “improve Israel’s image through the gay community in Israel.” This goal guides the group’s activity on college campuses across the U.S.

Pinkwashing is even popular among Zionist groups that draw their support from virulently homophobic donors. A Wider Bridge, which has the explicit mission of promoting Israel in North American queer communities, is funded by the same people that have donated to the far-right Heritage Foundation and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. 

Homophobes like these would be happy to know that despite Israel´s image as a “a tiny piece of land surrounded by so much animosity and hatred” as DeLuca-Tamasi put it, transgender Israelis do not find themselves overwhelmed by acceptance. 

More than 32% of transgender people in Israel are unemployed, compared to 10% of cisgender gay men. One transgender woman was refused a job because her employer didn’t want to hire “crossbreed creatures.” More than 70% of transgender Israelis report experiencing verbal abuse and 50% report experiencing physical abuse because of their gender identities. To some extent, this discrimination is actually made worse by Israel’s obsession with creating a tolerant image. In 2016, for example, the government spent ten times more on promoting World Pride in Tel Aviv than on funding LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. 

Pinkwashing rhetoric relies on orientalist racism. Pinkwashers depict the Middle East as a black hole of regressive views instead of countries with burgeoning LGBT activist communities. A coalition of 37 organizations in Tunisia support equality for women and LGBTQ+ people; in Morocco, 56 lawyers came to court to support a transgender woman who had been attacked.

By 2017, LGBTQ+ organizations and communities had emerged throughout most of the region. In fact, one of the few Middle Eastern countries that maintains a death penalty for homosexuality is Saudi Arabia, a budding Israeli ally.

In Palestine, the nation Israel most frequently paints as a homophobic desert shadowed by its own gay utopian light, two LGBT activist organizations, Aswat and al-Qaws, have incorporated the LGBTQ+ struggle into anti-Zionist resistance for nearly 20 years

Perhaps DeLuca-Tamasi’s most egregious misrepresentation was his praise for the Israeli practice of granting asylum to gay Palestinians. This is a blatant lie. 

Israel refuses to grant official asylum to any Palestinian, gay or otherwise. The High Court of Justice has granted unofficial entry to a few queer Palestinians since 2014, but this traumatic process leaves entrants in limbo for years and never grants full asylum. Other queer West Bank Palestinians are blackmailed into becoming informants under threat of being outed. Rather than providing a safe haven for queer Palestinians, Israel goes out of its way to make their lives hell.

If De-Luca Tamasi’s visit to our campus taught us anything, it is that queer struggles draw their strength from an intersectional approach that refuses to move forward without uplifting all people. Any movement that ignores this tenet will trade queer liberation for white supremacist exploitation.

Leave a Comment