First of all, happy Pride month, an internationally recognized occasion meant to celebrate the impact and accomplishments that LGBTQ people have had in the world. Tel Aviv Pride was held earlier this June over in the Middle East, and Xtra recently published an article as a follow-up called “Pinkwashing and Israel,” by Mya Guarnieri. I take issue with the author’s association of LGBTQ life in Israel to the unrelated topic of the conflict between Israel-Palestine – an apple to an orange – all under the accusatory banner of “pinkwashing.” Guarnieri has constructed an argument based on poor logic that rejects the achievements of the LGBTQ Israeli community, while offering no real solutions for peace in the process.
Obviously both LGBTQ rights and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are both important discussions worth having, and like all other sociocultural issues neither will see progress without a constructive dialogue. However, arguments like Guarnieri’s are based on logical fallacies. Is this an article about LGBTQ life in Israel, or about a deeply complex conflict between two populations of people over the entitlement of land? Use of the term “pinkwashing” suggests there are certain pro-Israel powers that be who conjure up LGBTQ news stories exclusively for the purpose of diverting attention away from the Palestinian conflict – as if Pride is just some sleight of hand meant to distract from/deny “demolitions” in Al-Arakib. Everything pink in Israel is apparently just propaganda, part of a larger communications strategy of indoctrination designed to manipulate public perception and conceal the West Bank behind a giant rainbow flag.
Israeli nation-branding is most definitely a conscious effort by some designed to shape opinions of the country (something travel and tourism departments around the globe have in common), and Israel’s progressive gay rights are often used in that effort as an effective PR tool. However, what Guarnieri and others are so quick to dismiss is that those gay rights in question are indeed real and true. The process of branding a product (in this case Israel) is meant to highlight its best qualities – the appealing attributes and ideals of a product that will then inspire consumers (in this case the people of Israel/the world) to develop an emotional connection to it. Using liberal gay rights or fun images from Tel Aviv Pride is an extremely smart and successful way of branding Israel as an amazing international gay destination – but remember Guarnieri, it’s actually an amazing international gay destination. Those attributes and ideals of the brand are true. You can’t sell a pig just by branding it a cow . . . it has to actually be a cow.
I had the opportunity to visit Israel earlier this month, both for the Tel Aviv Pride festivities as well as part of a larger tour of the country. I’ll say this with certainty: the rumours are true. Pride celebrations were incredible, comparable in look, feel, size and sentiment to all major Canadian events I’ve attended in years past. Tens of thousands came from literally all over the world to party out and proud, in the streets and on the beach. As with other Prides, it was an occasion to mark one’s own self-affirmation of a queer identity along with an appreciation for the positive support of the host city/country for the LGBTQ community. I think the state of Israel has one of the most impressive gay rights records in the world, let alone the Middle East. The list includes workplace and anti-discrimination laws, the recognition of gay marriages performed abroad, benefits rights for same-sex partners, adoption rights, surrogacy rights, protections for gay military personnel and more.
Guarnieri's article pays no real heed to the fact that LGBTQ people and our allies may actually just be sincerely proud of Israel, and that’s what the waving of the flag earlier this month was about.
Perhaps for once we should look beyond the conflict and celebrate LGBTQ life in Israel, without reducing the achievements of our allies abroad to some sort of marketing attempt to cover up Palestinian unrest. Just as gays and lesbians know what it’s like to have critics reduce our identities to unfair stereotypes, Israelis have a right to be known for more than just conflict. Moreover, they deserve – as do the Palestinians – to not be subjected to simplistic, black-and-white condemnations like “apartheid.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a difficult and important issue well worth discussing, where both sides have experienced tremendous violence and loss. I make no claim to be an expert in this area, but clearly neither is Guarnieri. There is a serious disconnect when a writer casually links a country’s gay rights reputation to the rest of its government’s foreign or domestic policies, an empty attempt at making being anti-Israel a queer value. Is Toronto Pride some sort of veiled cover-up for Canada’s complicated relationship with its aboriginal populations? LGBTQ rights should not and are not being used as whole or complete indicators of human rights in Israel. They’re meant as indicators of LGBTQ rights. Apples and oranges that live under the same fruit umbrella, but are different and distinct.
Dan Fricker is a gay Canadian writer with an appreciation for both sides of the coin.