Letter to the Editor: ‘Pinkwashing’ misrepresents LGBTQ rights in Israel

Yael Pasumansky

Yael Pasumansky is a fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Dear Editor,

Following Shai DeLuca-Tamasi’s visit to Tulane this past month, three students wrote an article in the Hullabaloo discussing LGBTQ+ rights in Israel. In their article, the authors grossly misrepresented the message delivered by DeLuca- Tamasi and presented misleading arguments about LGBTQ+ rights in the Jewish state. The authors overlooked important evidence and failed to factually describe the climate surrounding LGBTQ+ rights in the Middle East. 

The term “pinkwashing” has been coined to describe the “deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” Essentially, anti-Israel groups exploit this term to propagate the absurd idea that Israel, the most LGBTQ+ friendly state in the Middle East, promotes LGBTQ+ rights to conceal the suffering of Palestinians. This claim is not only false but also extremely offensive to all of the people who have fought long and hard to create positive LGBTQ+ reform within Israel.  The “pinkwashing” narrative is despicable — it erases the history and hard work of many activists, such as DeLuca– Tamasi. 

Cliff Soloway | Contributing Photographer
Shai DeLuca-Tamasi visited Tulane on Sept. 24 for an event about LGBTQ+ rights in Israel. An Intersections opinion article criticized the event as “pinkwashing.”

Like many other countries, the journey to establish human rights for LGBTQ+ individuals in Israel has not been an easy one only after fighting to tear down homophobic barriers in society did Israeli gay activists achieve remarkable progress. To imply that Israel simply paints itself gay to hoodwink the international community is an outrageous claim that necessarily employs a double standard against Israel: it puts Israel on a more critical platform than other countries due to an operationalized mission to depict the state as wrong.

This practice is rooted in antisemitism. While the Jewish state has a more progressive policy towards LGBTQ+ individuals than any other Middle Eastern or North African country, it is not admired, but demonized. We would never accuse America’s LGBTQ+ community of deceit or malevolence, so why should we do the same to Israel’s? 

The authors of the recent Hullabaloo article should take an honest look at the LGBTQ+ movement’s history in Israel; in the 1980s, Israel’s Gay Revolution sparked a movement of massive progress for the gay community, leading to improvements in human rights as well as social and legal equality for LGBTQ+ individuals. In 1997, Israel enacted an Anti-Discrimination amendment that prohibits uttering and publishing slander motivated by the sexual orientation of a person. In Israel, LGBTQ+ individuals have the freedom to openly express their identity without fear of prosecution. From serving in the military to business and entertainment, gay Israelis are celebrated rather than ousted.

Just like any other country in the world, Israel is not perfect, and the fight for equality continues as Israelis seek to improve LGBTQ+ rights and enact reforms such as legalizing gay marriage in Israel and improving rights for transgender people. That being said, it is worth noting that trans people in Israel are able to legally change their gender without sex-reassignment surgery – an important step that should be lauded by progressives everywhere. To be sure, the trans community still suffers from some discrimination in terms of employment – a problem that activists groups are fighting to change not just in Israel, but around the world. 

Not only does the “pinkwashing” narrative undermine the hard-won successes of Israel’s gay community, but it also ignores the fact that Israel serves as a safe place for gay individuals of other Middle Eastern countries. The authors of the recent Hullabaloo article claim that Israel relies on “orientalist racism” and that Israel paints the Middle East as a “black hole” in terms of LGBTQ+ policies. This idea fails to be upheld by factual information. While gay rights activist groups exist in other Middle Eastern and North African countries, societies in these countries at large are not tolerant of extending rights to LGBTQ+ people, according to polls.

For example, according to a poll conducted by Pew Research, in Arab countries including Egypt, Tunisia, and Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, more than 95% of individuals answered “no” to the question, “should society accept homosexuality?” In Israel, when asked the same question, 40% of respondents answered “yes.” In multiple countries and in the Gaza strip, homosexuality is punishable by death.

While Israel should not always be directly compared to countries like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia in their harsh treatment of gays, Israel deserves to be commended for its efforts to develop progressive solutions to controversial issues such as gay rights. Many Israelis recognize the need to allow refuge for gay Palestinians and have since developed programs such as the SOS project, offering social and legal assistance to LGBTQ+ Palestinians. 

Though LGBTQ+ groups in Israel are still fighting, the accomplishments they have made should be celebrated as successes. As DeLuca-Tamasi said, “to infer that the accomplishments my community and LGBTQ+ allies have succeeded in is somehow a nefarious plot to deny the struggle of Palestinians is ludicrous and offensive. It attempts to erase what we’ve done in the name of progress and equality as a political smoke screen.

Israel’s progress towards LGBTQ+ rights should not be negated. Quite the contrary – the country’s accomplishments and comparatively superb record on LGBTQ+ rights should serve as an example to the community of nations. 

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