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April 7, 2016 7:47 am

Why I Am a Proud, Queer, Jewish ‘Pinkwasher’

avatar by Corinne Blackmer

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Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, 2015. Photo: Wikipedia

Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, 2015. Photo: Wikipedia

In 2008, I emerged from the largest and scariest closet I have ever lived inside: I came out as a proud, queer, Jewish “pinkwasher.”

I am now the pro-Zionist Jewish lesbian who cheers loudly for the Israeli LGBT delegation at Gay Pride parades. Meanwhile, other queer parade-goers, showing their reflexive antisemitic and anti-Israel animus, boo and heckle while moving away from me, my wife and my friends, treating us like ignorant pariahs within our supposedly collectively oppressed community.

I am now the lesbian who, as a professor, regularly shows Israeli LGBT films in my class in queer literature and film, including Keep Not Silent (2004, dir. Llil Alexander), about Orthodox lesbians, and The Bubble (2006, dir. Eylan Fox), about a love affair between an Israeli and Palestinian gay man.

I am the lesbian professor who, when teaching sexuality and ethics, discusses the legal landscape for LGBTQ persons in the Middle East. In Egypt, same-sex sexual relations are punishable by 17 years in prison with hard labor; in Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and the UAE by flogging, the death penalty by hanging or decapitation, or both; in Iraq and Jordan, while such relations have been decriminalized, honor killings, abuse and silencing remain common.

In Israel, in bold contrast — the only democratic state in the Middle East — the record of LGBT civil rights is not only sterling but also groundbreaking, preceding developments in the United States and much of Europe by years and, sometimes, decades. Israel banned workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT persons in 1992, and legalized open military service in 1993; same-sex relationships in 1998; inheritance rights in 2004; adoption rights in 2005; civil unions in 2008, and civil divorce in 2012. Further, in 2008, the Interior Ministry granted a gay Palestinian from Jenin a rare residency permit to live with his Israeli partner of eight years after he asserted that his sexuality jeopardized his life in the West Bank.

Given such an inspiring progressive record, which stands as such an outstanding example of the success of the modern LGBT movement, why in the world would queers at Gay Pride parades in the United States (and Europe) volubly deride queer delegations from Israel? Why has Israel, with its struggles, achievements and history of antisemitic persecution, become a pariah within so much of the queer communities of America and, to a larger extent, Europe?

The answer lies not only in the sordid history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but also in the portmanteau compound word “pinkwashing” — a term of opprobrium I have decided to co-opt, to wear with pride on my own terms. Jasbir Puar, associate professor of women’s studies at Rutgers University, most recently infamous for claiming, in a lecture at Vassar, that Israelis engaged in “stunting” the growth and “harvesting the organs” of Palestinians, first coined this term to castigate Israel for its pro-LGBT civil rights record. Puar and other proponents of the notion of pinkwashing claim that Israel, concerned about its negative image of militarism and religiosity abroad, attempts to cover up its conflict with Palestinian Arabs by touting its achievements regarding queer civil rights. In her unfortunate screed, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (2007), Puar argues that queers in Western liberal countries that have afforded them significant civil liberties, have become co-opted into “homonationalism” and “homonormativity,” and feel sufficiently privileged to voice complaints about other minorities, specifically Muslim immigrants, who they, in exaggerated fashion, accuse of harboring homophobia. This formulation not only exaggerates the extent to which queer persons, particularly transsexual people, have achieved acceptance in liberal Western states, but also frankly whitewashes the significant homophobia (as well as antisemitism and sexism) in which many — if not all — Muslim immigrants partake, reflecting the precepts of Islam and the prejudices of their home countries. In addition, Puar points to Israeli comparisons between the status afforded LGBT people in Israel as opposed to the Palestinian territories, where gays have no legal protections and are the objects of discrimination, abuse, shunning, honor killings and murder, as instances of pinkwashing.

According to this view, Israeli LGBT activists who labored long and hard, often against entrenched ultra-Orthodox prejudice, to secure equal rights, did so only to disguise — or engage in a purposive “cover up” — of the presumed oppression of Palestinian Arabs. It has become impossible to celebrate gay achievements in Israel, and to suggest that Israel stands as a shining example for other Middle Eastern countries, as well as those ranging from Russia and Jamaica to Brazil and Uganda, to emulate. Instead, Puar and others position “homosexual rights” as an imperialist and anti-Palestinian Western phenomenon — despite the long histories of queer cultures in non-Western lands.

In brief, according to such critics, Israel can do no good. But the more that detractors reject her, the stronger I, as a proud, queer, Jewish pinkwasher, who knows that Israel’s LGBT achievements are a shining light unto the nations, hold fast to her in love.

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  • Pitangus Sulfuratus

    listen to God, then, He says:’For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.’

  • Stanley Tee

    Corinne, I would like to thank you for the article and for your reasoned responses to the ridiculous attacks that some have levelled against you. While I do not belong to your community (okay, I’m straight), my godson does and I have seen his struggles. Please know that there are many in my community who support you and who greatly appreciate your support for Israel. Thank you for your courage and for remaining calm. I would not have responded with your grace.

  • Cam

    This always pissed me off to no end. Israel has a right to be proud of her LGTB citizens without it being some massive conspiracy to harm Palestinians. It has the right to showcase these citizens. LGTB oriented businesses have a right to advertise their services without it being a distraction. My biggest hatred, though, is the idea that all three groups–the government, the people, and the businesses, are somehow involved in an evil plot using the LGTB to somehow harm Palestinians.

    If I said that every pride parade in Canada was just a means to distract people from the treatment of the Indigenous people, every add in a gay paper or online, the government passing a law that permits gay marriage, people would think I was crazy. But do the EXACT same thing to Israel, and it’s suddenly okay.

    Professor Blackmer, don’t ever stop fighting. Keep up the good, much needed work. Also, can I get you as a reference for grad school applications 😉

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Cam. I would be happy to furnish you with a recommendation, although, from the quality of your writing and thinking, I am sure you know plenty of faculty who stand ready to assist. 🙂
      Your examples are highly apropos, and pretty soon it will be impossible to take note of Israel’s outstanding contributions to technologies and environmental advances and medicine without it being labelled as a “distraction” from the Palestinian issue. Your support is warmly appreciated.

  • Miriam

    Congratulations on a great article, and on standing up for what is right, even when it means going against the views of a large part of one of your communities.

    Your Jewish community is strengthened immensely by having people like you in it.

  • Dan

    Great article Corinne

  • Jana

    Apologies .

  • Jana

    I notice my comments were not printed, ? I wonder why ? ,afraid of truth ? , disappointed algemeiner, truth will not go away.

  • Great article, Corinne. I admire your courage.

  • Reform School

    If the real queers are those who hate, welcome to Planet Queerra Firma.

  • Scott Rose

    The context in which this needs to be considered is global jihad.

    Typically, anti-Israel bigots think that Israel is a “special case,” but in reality, people in Ankara, Nigeria, San Bernardino, Boston, Paris and Brussels are no safer than Israelis from global jihad.

    Instead of advancing towards enlightenment on gay rights, the overwhelming majority of Muslim majority countries are doubling down with Islam against gay rights. The U.N., for example attempted to promulgate a universal code of human rights, but Muslims objected and got together to make up their own code of human rights — guess where gay people fit into that Muslim document?

    Brussels quickly went from being about 1% to 23% Muslim. Recently two Muslims were elected to the Brussels city government and announced their goal, over time of turning Belgium into an Islamic state under Sharia law. Their constituents left them in office.

    That is as much a part of global jihad as any terrorist violence. People need to get this concept through their heads.

    Jasbir Puar — since you mentioned her — went to the Middle East and said that when in the Arab areas nobody should mention homosexuality because to do so would “create another binary.” So she has zero interest in promoting gay rights in Muslim-controlled areas. Let that sink in.

  • Emanuel

    Everything you said here is great and you should be proud what you didn’t say is who you support in our upcoming election and I think there is room for significant concern if you support a candidate who demonizes the same state you claim to hold so dear.

    • Hi Emmanuel–I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment and query. Life has been unusually busy. I am supporting Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee. I am comfortable with her strong record in support of Israel (and am not in this regard with Sanders, who I do not trust as an ideologue) and her equally strong record in supporting LGBT people both in the United States and in the world abroad, where she was instrumental in making it a part of US foreign policy.

  • Joshua Laskin

    The Left traditionally has, I think, supported minority rights in the expectation of each minority, in turn, supporting the rights of all other minorities. But, this was mere wishful-thinking, and the bloom has left that rose. In reality, once a minority achieves mainstream status, it joins in the oppressions-de-jour. Because Israel has progressed in mainstreaming Queer Israelis, Queer Israelis and Queer Zionists aren’t considered allies by other minorities. Neither gender-preference or gender-identity, says anything about a person’s politics.

    • I agree with this assessment. The problem is that I live in the United States, where there is still prejudice and legal obstacles for gay people in housing and employment. Living in a progressive Blue state, I am integrated into society, but others that do not, especially in Southern states that have just passed those putative “religious liberties” bills, are not so lucky. It’s anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

  • Dahn

    Great piece, Corinne. Thank you!

    • You’re so welcome! It was a pleasure and a privilege to write. I love journalism.

  • Mark M

    Thanks for this article. I think that leftist activists ally themselves with Islamic extremists under the illusion that in opposing the established narrative that they have something in common. In Iran, with the triumph of the Ayatollahs, the leftist and Communist allies (not to mention gays) were promptly executed. Unfortunately, being gay doesn’t immunize one from being a bigot or ignorant.

    • You are most welcome for this article. The Left lives under the regime, unfortunately, of many illusions and self-delusions. One current in the gay community is that gay people ought to join in protest with Islam, including Islamic fundamentalism. So pathetic.

  • Is pride a positive characteristic from a Jewish standpoint?

    • It is wholly appropriate, in my opinion, to take righteous pride in the fact that one was born a Jew, and is a pro-Zionist lesbian Jew. It shows love for our people.

    • Rachel Cohen

      Her shake her fist in God’s face foolish pride in her Sodomite mental illness–is self destructive. And when nations embrace the Cultural Marxist Sodomite agenda–it is nationally destructive. Going against God’s moral code–is always the wrong thing to do. And she knows she is wrong in her Sodomy.

      • Zvi Benari

        (1) Lesbians do not (typically) perform sodomy
        (2) you have your head up your ass, so that might considered sodomy.
        (3) None of the invented “gods” have run a country, so they don’t count

        • judith bell

          Thank you Zvi for point 2. I loved it. LOL

      • Cam

        I’ve been studying antisemites for the better part of my life, and I still have no idea what the hell Cultural Marxism is.

  • Sherlock Holmes

    While the Holiness Code in Leviticus condemns adultery incest, homosexuality and bestiality, it does not mention lesbianism. The Torah expects a man to find a wife to make him complete, but there is no commandment for a woman to find a husband, although we assume that is the norm. Modesty is an intrinsic part of Judaism and parading your sexuality is immodest whatever your sexual orientation. We don’t parade married couples half undresed or crossdressers like a Victorian circus curiosity. Israel is the most tolerant and accepting society in the Middle East, just as it has Jews, Muslims and Christians living together, it has a range of private sexualities living together. We accept gays even while they criticise us!

    • I am not sure what you mean by “private” sexualities, as heterosexuals, certainly, have and exercise the right to “broadcast” their sexuality in any number of ways, including weddings, hand holding (unless you are ultra Orthodox), and feeling free to walk down the street arm in arm or hand in hand. I do not believe in going into public naked, of course, but I do not regard it as immodest to speak about my sexual orientation.

    • Rachel Cohen

      Now you are attempting to make a distinction without a difference–lesbianism is Sodomy. Only wicked societies accept Sodomy as good and normal–when God has clearly stated this is in no way acceptable to him. Even modern medical science shows Sodomy to be self destructive, both mentally and physically.

      • Bruce Michaud

        Would you care to substantiate those claims that empirical science has proven homosexuality a physical and mental detriment? Because, in nearly every instance that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness, proud homosexuals are some of the happiest, most loving, and most caring people I’ve ever met. Is it so wrong for a same-sex couple to adopt a child and raise them in an environment which encourages acceptance, open-mindedness, and pride in their lifestyle? Or should we be raising children heterosexually in a world of antiquated interpretations that we regard as law while promoting segregation, hate, and oppression?

      • Zvi Benari

        Can’t imagine any lesbian’s mind being self-destructed enough to lower it down to yours.
        If there was some sky daddy god, it wouldn’t be pleased at the waste of your brain.

      • Modern medical science has absolutely nothing negative to say about lesbianism; indeed, the contrary. Social scientific research actually shows us that lesbian couples rear children who are more adjusted and who perform better in school than their heterosexual counterparts.

    • And are breaking God’s laws by doing so,. You are turned away from him and if you would save yourselves , read Romans ch 1. , and there see what Paul a servant of God has to say about Lesbianism , it is condemned , it’s wrong .

      • Cam

        We don’t really listen to Paul in Judaism. Not in our book the same way that the Book of Maccabee isn’t in YOUR book.

    • And what does Paul have to say about women lying with women in Romans Ch 1 One . ??

      • Jana–since I am not a Christian, quotations from Romans in the Christian Bible mean absolutely nothing to me, and have nothing to do with my relationship with G-d, which is on good terms.