No ‘pride’ in genocide – oppose Israeli State pinkwashing

By Ollie Bell

Last November, the Israeli Government posted two photos of Israeli soldier Yoav Atzmoni posing with a rainbow flag with the words “In the name of love”, and stated he was raising the first Pride flag in Gaza as a call for “peace and freedom”. He stood smiling behind a destroyed, lifeless, landscape, levelled by the tanks he also posed proudly in front of. For many, the rainbow flag represents defiance against homophobia / transphobia, to show the world we won’t be forced back into the closets or be erased. Against the backdrop of an increased right-wing backlash against the LGBTQI+ community, the use of a Pride flag to celebrate the Israeli State’s genocidal destruction of Gaza was a slap to the face. 

Given the inspiring, growing movement of global solidarity with Palestine, LGBTQ+ activists and organisations rightly called out the Israeli government for pinkwashing. These comments are often met with the assertion that LGBTQI+ people are safer in Israel than they are in Palestine. LGBTQ+ people are expected to support Israel’s regime because they’re gay-friendly, often portraying Palestians as homophobic, violent and backwards. But Israel’s support of LGBTQI+ rights is nothing more than a tool to divert attention away from their violent occupation.

No to Brand Israel

Pinkwashing, a term coined in 2010 by Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism (QUILT), refers to how Israel exploits LGBTQI+ rights to shift attention away from the brutal occupation of Palestine. LGBTQI+ rights are used as a tool to improve Israel’s image while continuing its oppression of Palestinians. This front of LGBTQI+ inclusion relies heavily on racist and Islamphobic stereotypes of Palestine being inherently homophobic and regressive. Many Pro-Israel supporters will cite how homosexuality is still criminalised in Gaza as a way to diminish queer solidarity with Palestine. But they’ll often leave out the fact that the law was brought in by the British Occupation in 1936. 

Just like how we correctly call out corporations ‘rainbow-washing’ during Pride month while they turn their backs and actively harm the LGBTQI+ community the rest of the year, we must also examine how the Israeli State uses LGBTQI+ rights to justify the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Israel has poured huge amounts of money into marketing itself as gay-friendly with its Brand Israel campaign, specifically targeting cities like San Francisco and Berlin.

However, while Israel parades itself as the gay-friendly haven of the Middle East, marriage equality for LGBTQI+ couples isn’t legal in Israel and gender identity isn’t included in protections against discrimination in employment, services and public places. In 2021, Israel reached a record number of almost 3,000 cases of anti-LGBTQI+ hate crimes and violence, with over a third of all incidents targeting the trans community. 

LGBTQphobic state 

This rainbow haven also isn’t extended to queer Palestinians. It’s been documented that queer Palestinians are targeted and blackmailed by Israeli intelligence agencies to work as informants, drawing on the stigma associated with being LGBTQI+ in Palestine to strengthen their regime. Rather than wanting to protect LGBTQ+ Palestinians, Israeli agencies only see them as tools to use against Palestinian resistance. This coercion has only furthered the stigmatisation of LGBTQ+ identities in Palestine by equating being LGBTQI+ with working for Israeli security forces, alienating queer Palestinians further from their communities and using LGBTQI+ identities as a division tactic. 

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who has recently spoken of being in favour of “erasing” a Palestinian town, has also spoken of being a “proud homophobe”. There has been important resistance to the rise of LGBTQphobia within the Green Line (Israel’s pre-1967 borders), including against the far-right Israeli government. Many Pride demonstrations have turned into protests against it. 

Socialist Struggle Movement, the revolutionary socialist, anti-Zionist group in Palestine / Israel (sibling party of the Socialist Party), has consistently argued that the struggle against queerphobia must be linked to the struggle against the horrific oppression of Palestinians generally and the genocidal war against Gaza. During the recent Pride demonstration in West Jerusalem SSM participated with slogans such as “No one is free until everyone is free – end the bloodbath in Gaza”

Not business as usual

Our support should never be with the murderous Israeli regime. Even with its gay friendly branding, Netanyahu has been allied with the most viciously far-right sections of the Israeli political establishment. Once LGBTQ+ rights have their purpose of legitimising the Israeli state, a rollback will be next. 

Pride 2024 can’t be business as usual given the genocide in Gaza. While Dublin Pride has taken steps to cut sponsorships from companies with ties to the Israeli State, we need to do more. It is the duty of queer activists to stand firmly with Palestinian liberation and reject Israel’s cynical use of LGBTQ+ rights to justify its barbaric actions. The road to queer liberation will not be paved with Palestinian blood. Queer liberation is inherently tied to Palestinian liberation. 

Israel’s pinkwashing relies heavily on backward ideas of Palestinians as uncivilised and inherently homophobic. This rhetoric does nothing but divide oppressed groups from each other and crash solidarity movements. The same system that’s killing innocent Palestinians is also restricting trans people’s bodily autonomy and increasing violence against the LGBTQI+ community. Our allies are not to be found in the genocidal war machine, one born out of this oppressive capitalist system, but in the inspiring solidarity movement with Palestine. Our liberation will be won by standing side by side in Palestine’s struggle for liberation. 

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