PSA produced by Palestinian Queers for BDS
On February 23, New York’s LGTB Center quietly cancelled an event that was to take place there as part of Israeli Apartheid Week and expelled the event’s organizers after neoconservative adult gay film producer Michael Lucas threatened to boycott the center and have its funding cut off if it let a group promoting “hate speech” in its doors.
In the center’s history, no activist group has ever received such treatment. Without consulting its members, the center issued a paltry two-sentence statement announcing the cancellation of the Party to End Apartheid scheduled for March 5. Ironically, the center’s decision mimics the discrete institutional hypocrisy towards gay, trans, and HIV+ persons that gave impetus to its founding.
Earlier this month, a small group of Palestinian queer activists toured the US meeting with human rights policymakers at Harvard’s Carr Center, prominent members of the LGBT community at the Creating Change conference in Minneapolis, and astoundingly diverse audiences in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. While discussing the unique issues facing a queer community living under apartheid and a military occupation, the activists also addressed Israel’s recent efforts to portray itself as a gay oasis stranded in a desert of homophobia – a public relations tactic known as pinkwashing.
Pinkwashing arguments, such as the ones advanced by Lucas in his campaign against queer critics of Israel, follow a curious logic. They are infused with the belief that the world, particularly secular western democracies, will see their own ideals – multiculturalism, inclusion, liberalism - in Israel. Like the oasis that is actually a mirage, pinkwashing obscures the ugly implications of its own premises. If people know that Israel is welcoming towards gays, then everyone will forget its ruthlessly discriminatory, apartheid policies towards Palestinians. If people know that Israel is a haven for Palestinian gays fleeing the homophobic West Bank, then everyone will overlook the fact that queer as well as heterosexual soldiers perpetuate Israel’s war crimes and massacres against Palestinians. Ironically, this is where inclusion comes in, for the Israeli army’s bullets and bombs never distinguish among heterosexual, queer, or transgendered Palestinians.
Following Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza in 2008-2009, which took the lives of over 1300 Palestinians, including 300 children, the pinkwashing campaign was stepped up, as were other efforts to improve Israel’s battered image abroad. Not long after the attack on Gaza, Noa Meir, the coordinator of iPride, a creation of the American-based pro-Israel advocacy group Stand With Us, told the Jerusalem Post that his organization’s mission was to “improve Israel's image through the gay community in Israel.”
Israel’s Ministry of Public and Diaspora Affairs recently announced that it will send a group of Israelis, including members of the gay community, on a speaking tour of the United States to counter comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. The current Israeli government’s pinkwashing attempts are particularly cynical and odious in light of the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition is filled with right-wing religious parties that are virulently homophobic.
One of Michael Lucas’ films, Men of Israel, was shot in the ruins of a house in the destroyed village of Suba, where Zionist forces ethnically cleansed 700 Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948, qualifying it as perhaps the world’s first example of “desecration porn”. One wonders if he will return to his native Russia one day to make Soviet-themed porn at the site of a pogrom which he can then screen at the LGTB Center. Sadly, the center - once a hotbed of progressive activism and the birthplace of groups like ACT-UP and GLAAD – has become a home for intolerant neconservatives and those who wish to censor criticism of Israeli human rights abuses.
Nadia Awad is a Palestinian-American activist and member of Palestinian Queers for BDS.