Whose dirty laundry?

pink-laundryThe world is a really queer place. How else can you explain the idea that is gaining traction that Israel is using its favorable record on gay rights to mask abuses of occupation?

But that is the argument of those who are touting pinkwashing. Promoted primarily by Sarah Schulman, a professor at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, the idea was enshrined earlier this year at an April conference she hosted that brooked no dissent or debate. If you didn’t accept the terminology and that pinkwashing is a pernicious activity that Israel engages in, you were out.  James Kerchick, writing recently in Tablet, noted that even those who agreed that Israel was using its record on gays cynically, but not to mask human rights abuses, were deemed unworthy to be heard. Even those critical of Israel were deemed “operatives” of the Israeli government if they could not swallow Schulman’s argument hook, line and sinker.

Either you buy the argument, according to Schulman, or you don’t.

Well, I don’t.

Fundamentally, it strikes me as childish: That Israel cannot possibly be doing something good because at its core it is truly evil. And if Israel is promoting something good, its reasons must be nefarious.

Schulman notes that Israel’s record on gay rights really cannot be all that good, since the Orthodox remain opposed. It is true that the Orthodox point to the prohibitions on gay sex laid out in the Torah, but this completely overlooks the rule of civil law. And while Israel, like any Western country gets it wrong plenty of times — witness the protracted issues around women in the public sphere that have lately come to the fore — it is hard to overlook the very real rights gays do have. Israeli homosexuals serve in the military. They can adopt, have a right to change gender, are protected by anti-discrimination laws, and same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are recognized. I found it amusing that 61 percent of Israelis support civil marriage for same-sex couples, when there is no civil marriage in the country, period, even for straight couples.

I realize that by citing some of Israel’s pro-gay policies, I must be engaging in pinkwashing.

Except that I’m not. I haven’t excused any actions on Israel’s part in the West Bank with which I’ve disagreed nor have I excused all of its behavior toward Palestinians. While researching this, I was dismayed to learn that Israel’s intelligence organization, Shin Bet, often exploits the vulnerability of gays who flee the West Bank, threatening them with outing if they do not cooperate as collaborators.

But wait, they flee the West Bank? Because they are gay?

This willingness of the pinkwashing proponents to overlook any abuses by the Palestinians or any of Israel’s neighbors toward gays is the same thing in reverse. Schulman likes to cite that the Jordanian penal code, which is used in the West Bank, overturned Britain’s sodomy laws in 1950. But that does not mean gay life is exactly blossoming in Ramallah.

But ask Aswat, a lesbian rights group, why it is located in Haifa instead. According to a “State Sponsored Homophobia-May 2013” of International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, “More or less all basic human rights are breached regularly in almost all the MENA [Middle Eastern and North African] region countries!” (The exclamation point is theirs.) Just to be sure that they aren’t particularly FOI [Friends of Israel] the group complains in the same report that the Israel-based GayMiddleEast.com has spoken up on gay Arabs’ behalf, arrogantly inserting itself as a “savior” without anyone wanting it to do so, in the debate.

A 2012 film, “Invisible Men” details the lives of Palestinian gay men who have fled to Tel Aviv. Life is no picnic there, despite that city’s gay-friendly reputation (more marketing, I mean pinkwashing). In the West Bank being out is not much of an option. Families are shamed and often abuse and torture their own sons. In Israel they live in a different kind of closet, not a gay one, but one where they hide from authorities as illegal immigrants.

But maybe how gays are treated in the Palestinian — and by extension the rest of the Middle East — is entirely beside the point. Israel’s record stands on its own, singular in the Middle East.

That Schulman and her cronies have decided that pro-gay policies on Israel’s part are some aspect of a massive will to co-opt gay issues and ignore Palestinian rights is ludicrous. Other than Schulman, no one ever offered this up as a quid pro quo, saying that noting Israel’s treatment of gays barred you from criticizing its Palestinian policies.

It is Schulman who has brooked no dissent. And it exposes pinkwashing for the dirty, anti-Semitic laundry that it really is.


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