Apparently one painted plane too many has let the pushback on pinkwashing – Israel’s use of LGBT rights for propaganda – move from the margins to the center.
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When it emerged that to woo gay tourists to this year’s Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, the Tourism Ministry planned to fly people to Israel on a rainbow-painted plane, even those who considered criticism of pinkwashing an unfounded leftist conspiracy were irked. This was preceded by the ministry’s announcement that it had allocated 11 million shekels ($2.9 million) to promote gay tourism.
The use of LGBT rights to score propaganda points is nothing new, nor is the gay tourism campaign. In his UN speeches, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never missed an opportunity to argue that Iran hangs its gay people while Israel holds pride parades. And he warmly welcomed Amir Ohana, who is gay, when the fellow Likudnik became a Knesset member.
But the gap between the painted plane and recent Knesset votes nixing LGBT rights bills, as well as between the budget LGBT groups receive and the budget for gay tourism, shows that the state has commandeered the gay community and its less-than-full rights for public-diplomacy purposes.
The reactions indicate that criticism of pinkwashing is seeping into the heart of the debate. The first proposal – not to march in the parade so as not to give the state a pretty LGBT façade – is mistaken. It hints at agreement that the parade is merely a festive event.
The LGBT groups’ announcement that if sufficient budgets weren’t allocated to the community instead of tourism, this year’s parade would be turned into a protest march, is also lacking. The parade should always be a protest event focused on the struggle for equality.
The pushback against pinkwashing is a chance for the community to restore to the parade its protest element, which in recent years has been increasingly suppressed. It’s also a chance to stress at whose expense those budgets are allocated to tourism, and to point out real needs – like those of LGBT youth, particularly youth at risk; transgender people who suffer discrimination at work and/or are thrown out of their homes; LGBT asylum seekers who need protection; and people living with AIDS.
Think of what 11 million shekels for LGBT issues could do for these and other objectives. The Tourism Ministry’s decision to freeze the campaign should spark a debate on social priorities.
Moreover, the protest against pinkwashing must also recall the reason pinkwashing exists – to brand Israel an enlightened liberal democracy and divert attention from the occupation that empties democracy of its content and denies people basic rights.
The LGBT community’s response focused on the gaps between the lack of equal rights for gays and the government’s image-building efforts on the issue, and between the funds for the community and the funds for tourism. What’s missing has been the heart of the matter: the way the community is being used to facilitate the oppression of others.
Therefore, the opposition to pinkwashing and the real gay pride parade must include, even if the gay community is the focus, the struggle for democracy, equality and freedom for all, and opposition to oppression of anyone, not just LGBT people. Only thus will the hypocritical rainbow flight to nowhere be replaced by a parade one can truly be proud of.