Pinkwashing Debate: James Kirchick and Aeyal Gross Face Off on Complexities of Gay Pride in Israel

As Tel Aviv celebrates gay pride week, debaters hash out whether all that pride is justified or whether crowing about LGBT rights covers up Israel's violation of other groups' rights.

Haaretz

The day before Tel Aviv's internationally renowned gay pride parade, Haaretz asked: Is gay pride more complex when it comes to Israel? Should we be questioning whether Israel is using gay rights to "pinkwash" its actions in the West Bank and Gaza, or are pinkwashing charges just an irrelevant ploy to change the subject back to the Palestinians?

Aeyal Gross, Haaretz's legal commentator, and James Kirchick, a Washington-based journalist, debated the question right here.

Kirchick defined pinkwashing as "anything Israel does that's positive with regard to LGBT rights [having] an ulterior, sinister motive." Gross, meanwhile, called pinkwashing an "appropriation of LGBT rights for propaganda to promote an image of [Israel] as democratic while diverting from other rights violations."

When Kirchick challenged Gross to provide an example of a leader who used LGBT rights to justify the occupation, Gross replied that "when after the flotilla, Netanyahu says 'go to Gaza, not to us,' the message is clear."

Kirchick and Gross continued to debate the merit of claims that gays in Israel have more rights than gays in the Arab world. "So what," Gross said. "Gays in the U.K. have many more rights than in Israel. So what?"

Kirchick responded that "LGBT people, like other people, will identify with places that share their values."

A debate follower asked Gross why everything must have a sinister motive and come back to the Palestinian issue. Kirchick echoed the sentiment, saying that "Israel cannot do anything right in some people's eyes. Even the good things it does must be for bad reasons."

Gross replied that he "sees politicians who never work to advance LGBT rights in Israel flaunt it abroad for propaganda."

Gross continued to call politicians who speak out against gay rights yet brand Israel as pro-gay guilty of pinkwashing, adding that "even when they speak for gay rights but do nothing to promote it actively, that's domestic pinkwashing."

Kirchick responded that pinkwashing "is used to describe anything that comes out of Israel that reflects positively on LGBT." He added that pinkwashing is more a strategy that reality, saying that "most people who crow about 'pinkwashing' don't care about peace. They are anti-Zionist BDSers."

Gross disagreed, saying the argument has been made domestically since 1999, "before the rest of the world found out."

Gross concluded by saying that "our hard fought rights shouldn't be appropriated by the government for propaganda - and when they are, we shouldn't be complicit."

Kirchick said "the very existence of this debate is an indicator of Israel's open society. Is it 'pinkwashing' to say that?"

Scroll to read through the whole debate as it happened (latest tweets are first, scroll to the end to read in order).

Aeyal Gross argues that gay rights in Israel are being appropriated for their propaganda value.

Gross, Haaretz's legal commentator, is an associate law professor at Tel Aviv University, where he focuses on international law, constitutional law, human rights and queer theory. He is a co-founder of Tel Aviv University's LGBT and Queer Studies Forum, which organizes the university's annual LGBTQ Studies Conference.

James Kirchick argues that Israel really has become more gay-friendly – and there's nothing wrong with saying so.

Kirchick is a Washington-based journalist who has reported from Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and the Caucusus. He is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C., a correspondent for The Daily Beast and a columnist for Tablet. A leading voice on American gay politics and international gay rights, he is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's journalist of the year award. His 2013 protest of anti-gay laws on Russian state-sponsored television was seen around the world.