Palestinian queer activists challenge the ‘pinkwashing’ of the Israeli occupation

on 29 Comments

On February 16th, 2011 I attended a public forum entitled “Palestinian Queer Activists Talk Politics” in San Francisco’s Mission District. More than 20 groups including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Middle East Children’s Alliance sponsored the forum, moderated by lesbian Chicana activist and writer Cherríe Moraga. The discussion featured three speakers:

·         Abeer Mansour works for Aswat, a feminist queer Palestinian women’s group dedicating to “generat[ing] social change in order to meet the needs of one of the most silenced and oppressed communities in Israel.

·         Sami Shamali, who resides in the West Bank, represents Al Qaws, which aims to develop a “Palestinian civil society that respects and adheres to human and civil rights and allows individuals to live openly and equally, regardless of their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

·         Haneen Maikey, based in Jerusalem, is Al Qaws’ director.

I found the panel particularly compelling in light of its location, just outside of Dolores Park –a popular go-to spot for queer women in the Bay Area, in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the entire world. Because of San Francisco’s internationally known gay community, it has been a primary target of Israel’s re-branding campaign aimed at improving the country’s image through the use of “Pinkwashing.” Pinkwashing is the attempt to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine by portraying it as a progressive and democratic haven for LGBT individuals in direct contrast with the rest of the Middle East. It plays into a larger effort that aims to disparage Israel’s neighbors in order to justify the country’s existence as necessary by any means, relying on the image of a lone democracy barely surviving surrounded by violent, intolerant, women-hating, and generally backward societies.

Active within the Bay Area LGBT community, I have personally witnessed attempted pinkwashes. In one particular instance, a protest erupted after the California Supreme Court issued its ruling that Proposition 8 (the initiative defining marriage as between one man and one woman) was constitutional despite its prior decision legalizing same-sex unions. Within hours thousands of people took to the streets in protest. After a procession of speakers demanding equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, the rally closed with a rabbi who took the microphone in order to emphasize Israel’s commitment to gay rights and opposition to Prop 8, and to ask us to support the Jewish State because of it. A few activists including myself were disgusted and immediately left. However the majority stayed, and later that year I found myself hearing the same sentiments repeated by prominent LGBT figures

Queer Palestinians, like Afghan and Iraqi women, have consistently found their discourse co-opted by neo-conservative hawks and progressives alike in order to justify war and occupation under the assumption that such actions will ‘liberate’ the oppressed. It is this cynical manipulation that the forum’s speakers work to disparage. Claiming their own voices and movement, queer Palestinian activists are clamoring to be heard and wish for their American brothers and sisters to spread their message. So what is it they have to say?

The clearest message resounding from all three speakers was that if one actually cares about LGBT rights within Palestine, one should be working to end the occupation. That Israel has cultivated a vibrant and open gay enclave is laudable, yet such accomplishments do not give the ‘Jewish State’ a free pass to violate human rights, including the rights of the gay Palestinians they allegedly care for. As Haneen dryly explained, “It doesn’t matter what the sexual orientation of the Soldier at a checkpoint is, whether he can serve openly or not. What matters is that he’s there at all.” Sami echoed the same sentiment, jibing that “the apartheid wall was not created to keep Palestinian homophobes out of Gay Israel, and there is no magic door for gay Palestinians to pass through.”

When pressed by an audience member as to which situation they would prefer, a perfectly egalitarian, queer-friendly society still under occupation or a free Palestine that still suffers from sexism, patriarchy and homophobia, the three became visibly angry. Abeer looked to the audience and asked, “Please raise your hand if you’d like to live one day under occupation,” before saying that occupied people cannot adequately address civil rights issues as they struggle for their very means of survival. Sami went on to contend that freedom transforms the mind, giving people the best opportunity to examine their previously held attitudes. Drawing on recent events in Egypt, he related that while sexual harassment is rampant within the country, in Tahrir square women remarked an utter absence of abuse during the mass protests. At the same time, if one does not wish to see the correlation between the unacceptably slow pace of social change and the increasing weight of the occupation, one cannot honestly contend that Israel’s actions do anything to help the plight of Palestinian women/LGBT individials.

Each had their own story to tell about the intersection of queer identity and Palestinian identity, agreeing that Palestinian homosexuality had its own unique experiences. Yet for all three, the liberation of their country reigned supreme in their minds. The meeting ended with a standing ovation as the moderator boomed, “Clap if you understand that queers will never be free until Palestine is free.”

While their discussion did not focus solely on Israel’s abuse of LGBT liberation struggles in perpetuating conflict, I took away from it a deepened understanding of just how much more the West unfairly expects of Palestinians than anyone else. We expect Palestinians to not throw stones at the IDF jeeps who come to teargas their protestations against the illegal confiscation of their entire villages while we wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a man who shot a robber attempting to take his television set; We expect them to not elect representatives that reflect their religious sentiments though no one is surprised when the Christian Right attempts to influence our political system and we ally ourselves with the likes of Saudi Arabia; and we expect Palestinian society to wholly unshackle itself from the bonds of misogyny, racism and bigotry before we acknowledge their entitlement to basic human rights, despite our own shortcomings, including the reality that the realization of LGBT equality within the United States itself is relatively new and still imperfect. In all of the struggles for liberation many Americans support, including civil rights for African Americans, we have never required such a high standard of “goodness” before acknowledging a group’s basic humanity.

Abeer, Haneen and Sami represent a growing coalition of brave Palestinian youth focused on transforming entrenched attitudes from within while simultaneously undermining the imposed constraints of colonialism. Their work is an invaluable contribution to ending the occupation and transforming our understanding of Palestinian society. The message of these activists and their organizations deserves to be heard widely. Please do your part in spreading it to those who claim to care about gay rights. If you would like to attend one of their panels, you can find information for the remaining tour dates here.

Maggie Sager is an American college student and activist in San Francisco. You can find her work at http//

29 Responses

  1. Miura
    February 16, 2011, 10:12 am

    There can be weird currents of ethnic chauvinism swirling around some supposed advocates of gay rights:

    link to

    More generally, the type of self-satisfied collaboration by some in the establishment-friendly gay organizations has been called Homonationalism.

    link to

    (Hit CC for English subtitles)

    Blair Kuntz has written insightfully on the instrumental use of Queer As A Tool Of Colonial Oppression: The Case Of Israel/palestine.

    • Chaos4700
      February 16, 2011, 10:59 am

      Speaking as a memer of this particular minority, one finds the same range of human failings among LGBT as one does among any minority. So you’re sadly going to find gay men and women who are just as Islamophobic as any straight man or woman.

      What I find galling, though, is when people try to wield that as a weapon to divide the Progressive community. “But you’re gay! You know they behead people like you in the Middle East.” As if that sort of thing happens in front of every mosque in the Middle East as a matter of course. Or that there are jails in Lebanon, Jordan or occupied Palestine with cells for gay people like there were in early modern Protestant England.

      And it tends to be rather degrading to have any random American lecture me on what it’s like to be gay elsewhere in the world when gays don’t even have full rights or protections here.

      • Kathleen
        February 16, 2011, 11:21 am

        “Speaking as a memer of this particular minority, one finds the same range of human failings among LGBT as one does among any minority. So you’re sadly going to find gay men and women who are just as Islamophobic as any straight man or woman.”

        Yep and is always the case that is sad. When people are unable or unwilling to extend their own suffering to another and imagine what it is like.

      • Miura
        February 16, 2011, 11:37 am

        Yes, what’s sad is also that statements like ‘you’d be beheaded’ for being gay were unheard of in that part of the world until not long ago (in fact, it was a haven for gay people from Europe and US, e.g. Oscar Wilde, André Gide, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Jean Genet, and others):

        link to

        link to

      • Kathleen
        February 16, 2011, 1:36 pm

        Rachel Maddow is unwilling or a PEP (progressive except for Palestine) Unwilling to stick her neck out along with the rest of the the majority of the MSM.

        Glenn Greenwald is one lawyer, activist, gay individual who really sticks his neck out on this critical issue. He was on Dylan Ratigans a while back and they both went after Cliff May’s lies with the truth. Hopefully Dylan Ratigan did not get a lashing for this…

    • maggielorraine
      February 16, 2011, 12:24 pm

      I’ve read Kuntz’ essay and found it insightful. I also particularly like a response to the repugnant “Queers for Palestine?” Advocate article penned by orientalist idiot Kirchick that Haneen Maikey (who spoke last night) penned. It’s called “Israel, Palestine and Queers.”

      • Miura
        February 16, 2011, 6:35 pm

        Good piece, sad that in defending Israel James Kirchick has to set up straw man arguments of “protect the children” caliber that gay people have been fighting against for decades.

  2. Kathleen
    February 16, 2011, 10:35 am

    Interesting about the “pink washing” I have always thought that the LGBT community would get on the Pro Palestinian Pro Israel Pro Peace bandwagon due to the oppression that many have suffered. One would think that that deep understanding of oppression would go in that direction.

    The panel sounds out of this world. Was it streamed anywhere? Can we access it? Did the issue of how our MSM continues to touch the Goldstone Report, the UN report about the massacre on the Mavi Marmara? The decades long Palestinian Protest? How even recently during the endless coverage of the protest in Egypt (not happenning this week). The pro democracy pro justice “tsunami” leaped right over Palestinian justice issues, protest? Chris Matthews threw up a map the other night about where the tsunami was hitting and Israel…Palestinian territories were not on the map. Pathetic

    Now the one breakthrough I am seeing. Rachel Maddow had Dan Rather on the other night in regard to his recent report on support and training for Palestinian soldiers. A real breakthrough for Maddow who never touches this critical issue. But of course it was Rather who has gone where no other MSMer has gone. They actually said WEST BANK But nothing about the illegal settlements.

    Now on Rachel Maddow’s interview with Dan Rather “Israel amid the changes in the middle east”. She goes on and on about how the footage of protest in Iran are of poor quality. She even brings this question up with Dan Rather. Why is Iran blocking communications with the outside world. BUT OF COURSE Rachel does not bring up why she NEVER EVER covers the Palestinian protest, why Richard Engel or MSNBC never broadcast from an Israeli illegal settlement. Rachel Maddow is silent about all of this,

    Dan Rather repeats that “Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction” Such bullshit.

    Dan Rather on the Rachel Maddow show about his documentary “Precarious Peace”:
    “And now we are looking at the contagion if you want to put it that way, that happenned in Egypt. You said yourself earlier that Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan. The same forces coming up from below in all those countries . The same forces that came up in Egypt are coming up from those countries. And that could exist very well on the Palestinian West Bank. Right now and our story is that security in the West Bank has approved tremendously. They have a booming economy. I think the economic growth is at about 8 percent. Places like Ramallah, Hebron, Jericho which not that long ago you and others were reporting on were death traps. Israeli soldiers facing down rock throwing crowds. Rockets going into Israel, suicide bombers going into Israel”


    Dan Rather puts out that the enemy is Hamas.

    Rachel Maddow “never thought I would see it in my lifetime”

    Rachel Maddow has done little to nothing to show the American public what is really going on in this conflict. Silent on the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Silent on the Goldstone Report.

    A tiny breakthrough. Phil and Adam sure hope you cover this Rachel Maddow interview

    This morning (Wednesday) Dan Rather was on Morning Joe about this documentary. The interview was very contained. Barely asked him any in depth questions. When the camera spanned the talking heads at the table. Joe Scarborough, Willy, and Mike Barnacle look petrified. Frozen. Did not ask any probing questions. Nope
    Mika took the I/P conversation off topic as quickly as possible

    • maggielorraine
      February 16, 2011, 12:19 pm

      Hey Kathleen,

      The panel really was amazing. Such strong, intelligent, articulate and powerful individuals… It was not streaming anywhere. There was actually no video or photos allowed as some activists have requested this for their personally safety back home. They only touched on the MSM in the context of the writers who claim to speak for their movement or use them as a tool to excuse oppression.

      • maggielorraine
        February 16, 2011, 12:59 pm

        *personal safety

      • Kathleen
        February 16, 2011, 1:32 pm

        Too bad. Sad to think they the participants personal safety comes into play. Glad it is not keeping them silent

  3. Kathleen
    February 16, 2011, 11:32 am

    Anyone ever hear Jon Stewart criticize Israel, Netanyahu, the illegal settlements? Hell No

    On Tuesday evening Daily Shows Jon Stewart added to the bad bad bad Iran pile on He was hammering the Iranian President again. he implied that Iran is enriching uranium beyond the level that they are legally able Stewart is incapable or unwilling to apply these same standards by criticizing Israel’s unwillingess to sign the NPT and open up to international inspections. Israel’s shut down of all communication systems on the Mavi Marmara. The Mainstream media’s willingness to block any coverage of decades long Palestinian protest.

    Iran just took a page out of Israel’s playbook. Which Stewart and many others refuse to bring any attention to.

    Stewart is a serious and obvious hypocrite.

  4. annie
    February 16, 2011, 11:54 am

    thanks for your report maggie. i wish i had known about it, i would have come. san francisco is the most gay friendly city in the world, as far as i know. it’s such a small city w/such a large gay population. i don’t know of any other cities like that.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    February 16, 2011, 4:01 pm

    RE: “Pinkwashing is the attempt to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine by portraying it as a progressive and democratic haven for LGBT individuals in direct contrast with the rest of the Middle East.” – Maggie Sager

    SEE: Are You a Pro-Israel Media Maven? HasbArianna Is, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 09/15/10

    (excerpts) If you are, the Israeli foreign ministry (MFA) has a junket for you: it’a a real metzieh. Israel has allocated $25-million for hasbara efforts of which $15-20 million will be dedicated to romancing the stones of the pro-Israel social networking and media world: Arianna Huffington, that means you, baby. You’re the leading Hasbara target and you ponied up your journalistic probity in return for a good, long sip at the MFA trough…
    …Arianna, mazel tov to you:
    “The campaign will focus on hosting figures the ministry has identified as having significant influence on public opinion. The first step in that effort was seen in ministry involvement in coordinating Arianna Huffington’s visit to Israel…
    The ministry says it will work to cover the visits of many other opinion makers next year. The focus will be on people involved in lifestyle issues, culture and art, as well as leaders of specific population segments such as the gay community…”

    SOURCE – link to

  6. DICKERSON3870
    February 16, 2011, 4:17 pm

    P.S. SEE: “Israeli MP blames gays for earthquakes”, ABC News (Australia), 02/21/08

    (excerpt) A Jewish ultra-Orthodox MP [Member of the Knesset] yesterday blamed homosexuals for a recent earthquake that struck Israel and the region.
    Shas MP Shlomo Benizri, speaking at a parliamentary committee on the country’s preparedness for quakes, lashed out at homosexuality, considered an abomination under Jewish law and in its religious text, the Gemara.
    “We are looking for earthly solutions, how to prevent them,” Mr Benizri said. “I have another way to prevent earthquakes. The Gemara says that one of the reasons earthquakes happen, which the Knesset (parliament) legitimises, is homosexuality.”
    “God says you shake your genitals where you are not supposed to and I will shake my world in order to wake you up.”… [Might this explain the devastating earthquake in Hati? – J.L.D.]

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to

    ALSO SEE: “Haredi writer: Gays should be forced to face firing squad”, by Uri Blau, Haaretz, 08/21/09

    (excerpts) A Haredi Web site this week published an article calling for police to arrest the managers of the Tel Aviv gay center that was the scene of a shooting that left two dead earlier this month, claiming that the managers ran a club where child molestation and acts of sexual perversion took place.
    The article on the “Tzofer” Web site, which had the headline “Prosecute the managers of the club where the murders happened”, said the gay center’s management should stand trial for “the acts they carried out on minors behind the walls of that club of perversion”…
    ….Tzofer writer Yisrael Artzi said he did not know who wrote the article, but did not shy away from issuing his own condemnation of the LGBT community. “These perverts take everything out into the street, into the public domain. A child, religious or secular, doesn’t need to know they exist”.
    Artzi added that homosexuals “are worse than beasts, at least a beast knows it’s [homosexuality] wrong, or not natural”. Artzi finished his statements to Haaretz by saying the managers of the gay center “should be forced to face a firing squad”.


  7. ish
    February 16, 2011, 5:45 pm

    Thanks for this report. These folks held a talk in NYC but due to an overflow crowd many of us couldn’t get in.

    As a gay man who is constantly arguing with pro-Israeli gays on a couple blogs, it’s very gratifying to see Queer Palestinians speak out for themselves.

  8. Saleema
    February 16, 2011, 6:38 pm

    How people treat GLBT community in that part of the world:
    link to

    The above promo is a Pakistani late night show where “Begum” dresses up as a beautiful woman and interviews politicians to actors on serious topics. Smart, funny, cutting. He has a lot of not very nice things to say about the various western countries and their culture.

    An outside media once interviewed him and asked him what he and other GLBT members were doing to advance their rights in Pakistan. He replied that they have been terrorized by the war on terror and once they can get away from drones, they will think about what to do.

    The interviewers asked him if he was a cross-dresser or gay? He first avoided putting himself in a category, but the white male interviewer persisted and he said he’s bisexual and likes to dress up as a woman. White guy? Bisexual? Begum: Yes

  9. Taxi
    February 16, 2011, 8:08 pm

    Remember when Ahmade said Iran has no homosexuals?

    So I guess Rachael Maddow can claim Palestine has no homosexuals too eh?

  10. biorabbi
    February 16, 2011, 10:57 pm

    link to

    Jeez. Aren’t the reporters just telling the story? Why are they raping US reporters in Egypt(in public on the eve of Mubarek’s ousting)? Now their hating on Anderson in Egypt and this poor soul in Bahrain. It must be Israel’s fault. Is there any other possibility? Maybe colonialism, George Bush or the notorious AFL-CIA as depicted in the movie Barcelona.

    • Saleema
      February 17, 2011, 1:58 am

      It’s not Israel’s fault. It’s actually the fault of people like you. There are idiots everywhere.

    • Chaos4700
      February 17, 2011, 5:45 pm

      Yes, yes, biorabbi. Hide your gays. Never mind us, we don’t need to have a serious discussion. Go ahead and hijack this one here so that you can exploit a woman’s rape and spend it as political capital to defame Arab democracy.

  11. mig
    February 17, 2011, 9:16 am

    biorabbi :

    Jeez. Aren’t the reporters just telling the story?

    ++++ Yeah, and thats why they are so dangerous.

    Why are they raping US reporters in Egypt(in public on the eve of Mubarek’s ousting)?

    ++++ Actually we dont know for sure if rape was that which happen. News are telling sexual assault, which can mean various things.

    Now their hating on Anderson in Egypt and this poor soul in Bahrain. It must be Israel’s fault.

    ++++ Well, if you look really behind of those US & stars & stripes sunglasess, reporters from many countrys are target. :

    link to

    Is there any other possibility?

    ++++ Yes.

    Maybe colonialism, George Bush or the notorious AFL-CIA as depicted in the movie Barcelona.

    ++++ Or 10 000 other excuses.

  12. lysias
    February 27, 2013, 6:56 pm

    I just read about this event in Sarah Schulman’s Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. As I’m sure you know, Maggie, you’re mentioned in the book.

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