Israel Respects Gay Rights; the Palestinians Do Not
The University of Pittsburgh’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a meeting in October on the topic of “pinkwashing” — the accusation that Israel exploits the LGBTQ+ community to propagandize a progressive image of the country, and to obscure the reality that Israel is allegedly an apartheid state.
Pinkwashing is one of many false narratives manufactured by anti-Israel organizations. Like any country, Israel is not perfect and not without prejudice; but it strives to be a beacon of freedom for all its inhabitants. In a region hardly brimming with liberal democracies, Israel “adamantly protects the rights of its gay citizens, and the LGBT community is represented in the highest echelons and in all facets of Israeli society.”
Israel celebrates the community not to appear progressive, but because it truly respects gay rights, and has an uncanny level of support for the LGBT+ community.
The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote that a Jewish state would be a positive force not only for Jews, but “for the good of humanity.” Nothing could be more true for the prosperous LGBTQ+ community in Israel, though anti-Zionist activists such as adherents to the BDS movement insist that an ulterior motive is at play.
The BDS movement claims that “Israel’s pinkwashing agenda seeks to portray itself as a fun-loving gay haven while using racist stereotypes to depict Palestinians as backward.”
In reality, there are no civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ people in the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has prompted hundreds of gay Palestinians to flee to Israel for fear of persecution.
According to Amnesty International, there have been “at least eight cases of LGBTI individuals who were arbitrarily arrested or ill-treated by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Not to mention that, according to a survey conducted by the Arab Barometer research network just last year, only 5% of West Bank Palestinians accept gay relationships.
Homosexual activity is an imprisonable, even fatal, offense in the Gaza Strip. The terrorist organization Hamas executed one of its own commanders in 2016 for, among other allegations, “moral turpitude, by which Hamas meant homosexuality,” according to a New York Times report. While no society is completely free of intolerance, singling out the Jewish state as uniquely evil while disregarding the plight of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the region is antisemitic and intellectually dishonest.
For example, Middle East Eye contributor Nada Elia didn’t seem the least bit concerned about the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community under the Palestinian leadership in an article published in 2018. Instead, she accused Israel of pinkwashing. “All of Israel is not gay-friendly,” she wrote, “and even those few places that are, are ‘white-and Jewish-gay-friendly.’”
Elia’s canards are nothing new. In her book How to Fight Anti-Semitism, journalist Bari Weiss explains how antisemitism conveniently “turns Jews into the symbol of whatever a given civilization defines as its most sinister and threatening qualities.” In Elia’s case, Jews aptly fill the role of colonialist white people — a nonsensical attempt to conceal Israel’s distinctive LGBTQ+ rights record and its vibrant communities from North Africa and the greater Middle East.
In nations such as Iran, Saudia Arabia, and Yemen, same-sex relations are punishable by death, yet these countries seldom face the same degree of criticism from activist groups as Israel does.
Pinkwashing claims can be similar to other falsehoods peddled by anti-Zionist organizations, in that they are at best an undermining of Israel’s LGBTQ+ rights records, and at worst, a political facade masking Jew hatred and antisemitism. In 2019, the DC Dyke March banned the Israeli flag in the name of restricting “nationalist symbols” and representations of “violent nationalism.” Palestinian flags, on the other hand, were deemed acceptable, even though they are also “nationalist symbols.”
Israelis know better than anyone the pain of being rejected by the world, and thus should be proud to have fostered such a tolerant environment for another persecuted people. Anti-Zionist organizations continually selling the baseless and homophobic myth that LGBTQ+ Israelis are simply parts of an apartheid propaganda machine only decreases chances for peace, and more devastatingly, risks hurting the very people they claim to be liberating.
Aidan Segal is a student at the University of Pittsburgh, and a campus fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).