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November 25, 2011 10:12 am

“Israel and ‘Pinkwashing'”: What was the New York Times thinking?

avatar by David Harris

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The New York Times building in New York, NY. Photo: Haxorjoe.

One of the three spaces on the prestigious New York Times op-ed page in the November 23rd edition was given to a rather odd piece.

Amidst all the turmoil going on in the world today, the editors chose to publish a column entitled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing.'”

In the first paragraph, the author, Sarah Schulman, sets forth her premise:

“After generations of sacrifice and organization, gay people in parts of the world have won protection from discrimination and relationship recognition. But these changes have given rise to a nefarious phenomenon: the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel.”

Schulman quickly loses sight of Western Europe, however, as do the Times’ headline writers, and zeroes in on her real target – Israel.

She accuses Israel of “pinkwashing,” which she defines as “a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

In other words, if Israel takes pride in being a country where gays don’t have to live in hiding or terror, it’s actually nothing more, we’re told, than an elaborate ruse to distract attention from the country’s true nature.

Schulman, of course, is entitled to her views, however outlandish they may be.

But why the Times opted to publish them is another matter entirely. The op-ed page isn’t exactly wide open to just anyone. Other than the regular columnists, available space for would-be contributors is at quite a premium.

What prompted this publishing decision? Beats me.

First, her thesis is preposterous.

Touting “Israeli gay life” to “conceal” the “continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights”? Give me a break.

Does such convoluted thinking also mean that if Israel heralds its tenth citizen to win a Nobel Prize or the latest advances in life-saving medical technology, this is again nothing more than a smokescreen to distract attention from the “real” issues, in Schulman’s mind, and needs to be blown out of the water?

Second, there’s nothing timely in what she writes.

The kickoff point for her broadside against Israel is a 2005 Israeli marketing campaign to create a positive, non-conflict image of democratic Israel, including gay life. She then refers to a Tel Aviv tourism campaign launched last year to attract gay visitors.

If all this wasn’t deemed newsworthy six years ago or last year, why now? What’s suddenly so different?

Third, there’s the bizarre, almost surreal, quality of the piece itself.

Were I a gay activist today, would my one shot at reaching the Times’ global readership be devoted to Israel’s alleged misdeeds, even as I could live freely there and celebrate my lifestyle without hindrance?

Or would it center on the pressing plight of gays in those parts of the world, including the Arab Middle East and Iran, where open behavior can result in arrest, torture, and even death?

Apropos, it’s a shame Schulman didn’t tell readers how many gay Israelis have fled to Palestinian-controlled territories to avoid harassment, and how many gay Palestinians have fled to Israel. The answer would have been illuminating.

And fourth, surely something more is at play.

Were the paper’s editors aware of Ms. Schulman’s larger views on Israel? If not, there’s little excuse. A quick Google search offers an eye-popping perspective.

Schulman doesn’t much like Israel. In fact, she devotes a fair amount of her time and energy to publicly assailing Israel, delegitimizing it, and boycotting it, including its universities.

She has signed petitions that condemn “Israel’s military occupation of Palestine” since 1948, meaning Israel’s very right to exist. She has supported the Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean Israel’s end. And she has denounced Israel’s “process of colonization” from its very founding, “brutality,” and “military dominance over Lebanon.” (I’m not sure, er, that freedom-defending, peace-seeking, gay-loving Hezbollah would agree with the last point.)

At the same time, I wasn’t able to find a single word of regret by Schulman for any Israeli civilian loss of life at the hands of those she lionizes in the Arab world. That’s presumably because Israel, having no right to exist in the first place in her eyes, cannot expect any sympathy for its buried victims.

Again, let me be clear. Schulman is not the main issue here, whatever her insidious outlook.

Rather, it’s the decision of a leading newspaper to allocate coveted space to “Israel and Pinkwashing,” whose author, described only as a professor, doesn’t even believe in Israel’s right to exist, irrespective of how it deals with gay issues. “Whitewashing the Truth” might have been a more fitting title.

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  • josef

    First off, the use of the term “pinkwashing” speaks volumes with one word. Does the ever-so-sensitive NYT not realize just what a slap in the face the use of such a term is to gay men? Do the editors not have any idea of just what that conjures up in the minds of those of us who are old enough to remember the days before Stonewall when our very existence was a pathology, and any expression of that identity was an illegal act?

    Furthermore, as the author here makes a point of, if you are out to criticize Israel in the matter of human rights, picking the gay question for topic is disingenuous at best, given that Israel is light years ahead of its neighbors in that arena. Israel is “co-opting” gays for its nefarious ends? L-rd, Girlfriend, what do you think you’re doing?

    And finally, if indeed Israel is doing as charged, who do you think I am going to prefer to be co-opted by Ms Shulman, you or them?