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Did the Israeli government just admit to 'pinkwashing?'

LGBTQ organizations in Israel are threatening to cancel Tel Aviv’s yearly Pride Parade unless the government allocates more money to their groups and causes at home — and not just use the parade to promote Israel as a bastion of progressive liberalism overseas. The government’s response? Pull the international promotional budget.

By Yael Marom

Israelis take part in the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015. (Activestills.org)

Israelis take part in the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015. (Activestills.org)

The LGTBQ community in Israel is threatening to hold a huge demonstration instead of the internationally lauded annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade this year. The bold threat is the result of an announcement that the Tourism Ministry was budgeting NIS 11 million ($2.9 million) to promote the event overseas – 10 times the combined yearly budget of all LGTBQ organizations in Israel.

The Israel National LGBT Task Force instead called on the government to allocate a sum equal to the NIS 11 million gay tourism spending — including money earmarked to paint a plane in rainbow colors to fly in LGBTQ tourists — to LGBTQ organizations in Israel. But instead of answering the community’s demands, the Tourism Ministry suspended the NIS 11 million campaign to promote the Tel Aviv Pride Parade overseas, according to Ynet.

I can’t help but welcome the Tourism Ministry’s decision to pull the funding. It is about time that the state stop using us as a public relations tool to cover up what is really happening here: racism, hate crimes, violence, occupation, segregation and separation, intolerable economic gaps, the discrimination and marginalization of various groups in our society. It’s time the state stops using us as a liberal, pink cloak to sell Israel to the world as something diametrically different than what it is. As much as we might want to think we’re on our way there, we are not a tolerant, open or liberal society.

A drawing of the plane the Tourism Ministry planned to paint for the 2016 Pride Parade. (Courtesy)

A drawing of the plane the Tourism Ministry planned to paint for the 2016 Pride Parade. (Courtesy)

The announcement by the Tourism Ministry, which is headed by a close Netanyahu ally, is an unequivocal admission by the Israeli government that it is not interested in what the country can do for the LGBTQ community, but what the community can do for the country.

Israel figured this game out a long time ago. The LGBTQ community’s struggle for equal rights is one of the most high-visibility social and civil rights struggles in the world these days. What was once taboo has now become a card Israel can play against the West. Instead of talking about the occupation, let’s talk about Dana International. Instead of talking about economic inequality or the creation of monopolies over privatized natural resources, let’s talk about sequins and drag queens in the Pride Parade. Instead of talking about the murder of Shira Banki, let’s paint an airplane in rainbow colors and bring celebrities to fawn over our amazing community so they can tell all the people back home to come visit and spend their money here.

It will take more than a few coats of rainbow paint to cover up the crimes that have been committed against the LGBTQ community in Israel. It will take more than a few layers of paint to hide: the three transgender Israelis who took their own lives last year; the LGTBQ rights bills that never make it into law; the absurdly low budgets for LGTBQ community organizations and campaigns; that “conversion therapy” is still legal; homophobic statements from members of Knesset and prominent rabbis. It will take more than a few layers of paint to hide the fact that “homo” and “lesbian” are still pejorative curse words in our enlightened nation; or the fact that we cannot marry here. It cannot hide the teens who are forced to run away from home to shelters. And it cannot hide the murders. The murders.

Israeli youth mourn Shira Banki, who was murdered by an ultra-Orthodox man at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, August 2, 2015. The attacker, Yishai Schlissel, stabled six people. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israeli youth mourn Shira Banki, who was murdered by an ultra-Orthodox man at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, August 2, 2015. The attacker, Yishai Schlissel, stabled six people. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The most important layer of paint is the Western liberalism meant to mask the occupation, which exists just a few dozen miles from the jovial, colorful Pride Parade in Tel Aviv — and yet so far from it. Cover it in glittery pink paint, divert the tourists’ eyes from the checkpoints, the thousands of prisoners — hundreds being jailed without charge or trail, some of them children and clowns. Divert their eyes from the ongoing blockade and from the military rule Israel exerts over millions of Palestinians. Divert their ears from the way that young Israeli soldiers, in elite units like “8200,” are involved in the extortion of Palestinians on the basis of their sexual orientation, threatening to risk their lives by expose them in their own communities if they don’t agree to risk their lives by collaborating with Israel’s intelligence agencies.

(Activists often use the word “pinkwashing” refer to Israel’s use of its self-declared tolerance to divert attention from the occupation and other human rights abuses.)

The Tourism Ministry was surely caught completely off guard when the Israel National LGBT Task Force quite decisively rejected its “Pride Plane” campaign (Hebrew). The arrangement, according to which the government supports the LGBTQ community as long as it stays in Tel Aviv and makes itself colorful and pretty in marches on an international stage and allows itself to be used — that arrangement appears to be broken. Maybe it is a sign that we, the LGBTQ community, are are finally realizing our strength. Maybe we’re starting to realize that we deserve more than a few crumbs. Maybe we’re starting to understand that we deserve more than being used as enlightened fig leafs. It is time to stop dancing to the tune of hasbara.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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    1. Lewis from Afula

      Yes, I agree. Israel is bluntly guilty of Pinkwashing, Democracy-washing, Monogamywashing, Honor Killing-washing etc.

      But Hamas & Fatah are free of these faults.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard E Sherwin

      this is sooo sick with greed and self importance! the government’s damned if it helps out and damned if it doesnt do it on your terms. just what the palestinians have to do with ANYTHING here except persecuting and killing gays i dont know. we can handle them thank you without lgbt or whatever alphabet soup you swing on. the idf doesnt persecute or exclude gays, and what’s more, regardless of any latent or active homophobes. furthermore, it’s obvious the more ‘exposure’ the more likely those who are uninterested in, dislike, resentful of, gays for whatever their reasons — and they have the right to them in a democracy, just not the right to criminal actions– will be also encouraged to ‘come out’. that’s something our country knows about and does the best it can to contain. we are not perfect, we dont give a damn about your claims of pinkwashing, just get on with your lives and let us get on with ours, as best we all can together.>>
      so get on with your parading if you want to, if you must. enough of the country enjoys watching and/or participating in it. in tel aviv anyway. which should be in our multicultural attitudes and wartime situation enough. unless youre trying to compete with the palestinians to occupy the country from the jordan to the mediterranean sea?>>

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      This article is so revealing of the true nature of hasbara.

      Toby Kahan, I defy you to name one country that engages in the same mix of guilt-manipulating and self-righteousness and practiced dishonesty in the service of “the bad.” Care to expand upon “the bad”? What other country is using its “positive attributes” to mask occupation? I don’t see the Chinese touting their gay pride or any other liberalness whatsoever to distract from their occupation of Tibet. The Chinese, for all their brutality, don’t pretend. They don’t paint airplanes with bullshit. They don’t go around bragging about how tolerant they are as a manipulative ploy to advance an armed occupation. The Chinese come right out and assert “Tibet is Chinese.” Why doesn’t your country come right out and say “Palestine is Israeli”? And then face the music and either accord the Palestinians full citizenship or admit to apartheid. The reasons are obvious. China is not a democracy and doesn’t pretend to be; and Han Chinese vastly outnumber ethnic Tibetans. Israel pretends to be a true democracy and needs to pretend this; and Jewish Israelis do not vastly outnumber Palestinians, they don’t outnumber them at all.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Yossi Hertz, on the one hand you want to excuse the situation Marom illuminates by saying “Why don’t you go to Iran if you don’t like it?” but on the other hand I am sure you want to insist there is “no daylight” between Israel and the USA. I have news for you: no one serious in the USA excuses frank oppression by saying “What’s the problem, we are not the equivalent of Iran?”

      Reply to Comment