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'Pinkwashing' preferred over 'pinkstoning'

Israel’s record on gay rights should be applauded and celebrated, just as its record on Palestinian rights should be scrutinized and challenged. But the military should stay out of the first if it can’t find better answers for the second.

The Israeli military, the IDF, is enjoying both widespread praise and criticism this week for the posting on its English-language Facebook page of a photo of two uniformed men holding hands. The photo was taken and distributed just days after Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride Parade, which attracted thousands of foreign visitors to Israel. Its distribution comes amid growing accusations that the Israeli government through its various ministries, is engaging in a public relations campaign dubbed “pinkwashing” – the touting of Israel’s record on gay rights as a diversion or deflection from the attention it has received over its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Photo showing two soldiers holding hands, posted on IDF spokesperson Facebook acount. The soldiers serve in the IDF spokesperson unit, and not in combat units as their uniforms might suggest (photo: IDF Spokesperson on flickr)

In the first two days, the photo generated nearly 9,000 “shares,” more than 10,000 “likes,” and more than 1,500 comments on the IDF’s Facebook page (ranging from “incredibly proud” and supportive to the expected accusations of “abomination”), plus countless other “chats” on the pages of various Facebook users who re-posted the picture. The uniformed men have their backs to the camera, making their identities almost impossible to ascertain. Those familiar with the berets fastened on their shoulders safely assumed that one serves in the elite Givati Brigade while the other is enlisted in the Artillery Corps. However, within 24 hours, it was discovered and confirmed that the photo was staged, that both men serve in the IDF’s spokesperson’s unit, and that one of the men is not gay at all, and thus, the two are not actually a couple, as effectively suggested by the photo. The Times of Israel, a somewhat new publication headed by the former editor of the relatively conservative Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, was among the first to call the post “misleading.” The IDF told a writer from the publication, in response to its query, that:

The photo reflects the IDF’s open minded attitude towards soldiers of all sexual orientations. The IDF respects the privacy of the soldiers featured in the photograph, and will not comment on their identities.

But the IDF did not deny that the photo was staged.

Indeed, the IDF does have an open policy regarding the sexual orientation of its soldiers, and that should be applauded. While some gay men may use their sexuality (combined with a recommendation from a psychiatrist) to avoid military service, most serve and, if they chose, can serve openly, without risking official condemnation. Such a policy long precedes the United States’ repeal this year of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and is one that by most standards measures up as more progressive than any other military in the world. And it goes even further, as pointed out by “GB” in one of the debates on the photo:

[The IDF] not only allows Trans[-sexual] soldiers to serve but also pays for their hormones while they are in service, as part of their medical benefits.

Which is, some would argue, one of the reasons why a staged photo is all the more upsetting. If the IDF is doing such wonderful things in terms of gay rights, can it take a real picture of one of them and use that instead?

But the photo has also raised some others questions. “GB” adds:

The Israeli army plays a huge role in shaping Israeli social consensus, so publishing a photo like that has a huge impact on promoting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) awareness and rights.

Indeed, Israeli society suffers from an incorrigible dose of machismo, much of it the effect of a military culture. That being the case, why was the picture posted only on the IDF’s English Facebook page and not the Hebrew one? Namely because it was not meant to change anything about Israeli society from the inside, but rather only influence public perception abroad. Arguably, that’s a shame and a missed opportunity. Many openly gay cadets serving in the military are frequently abused, most often verbally, though in some cases physically and sexually. Derogatory terminology for gays is used both in military and civilian life, with some-to-little discomfort for the majority of the population except, perhaps, in the condensed liberal metropolis of Tel Aviv. The contradiction between the IDF’s staged photo and this reality is highlight in a caricature by artist and +972 friend Mysh.

"IDF spokesperson presents" (cartoon by Mysh)

Earlier this year, a spokesman from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office tweeted a drafted version of a letter to be issued to pro-Palestinian activists arriving in Israel. As reported by +972’s Dimi Reider, in it, Spokesman Ophir Gendleman effectively asks the activists why they do not go protest in Syria or Iran or Gaza. Mr. Gendleman fails to realize that activism does not work like that. One cares for a cause and sticks to it. For a very long time. It is rare that an activist wakes in the morning and thinks, “Where in the world should I go today? What in the world should I protest today?” That is just not the case. Energy is a finite resource and one usually dedicates it to a cause that is close to one’s heart.

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting "pinkwashing" by Israeli government hold sign which reads "There's no pride in occupation," June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting "pinkwashing" by Israeli government hold sign which reads "There's no pride in occupation," June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

The same is true in reverse. There are those in Israel who have been fighting for the promotion of gay rights for years, undiverted by other causes. Undiverted, but not unsympathetic. In this year’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade, a few dozen people marched in a group holding signs that, among them, read, “There’s no pride in occupation.” The majority of gays and lesbians in Israel support an end to the occupation, even if they do little to show for it. But condemning one’s default allies is not wise. Those, like Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke, who snubbed a global LGBT conference in Philadelphia earlier this year because it celebrated Israel’s record on gay rights (and then posted the reason for her decision on YouTube), are at best disrespecting Israeli gay rights activists, and at worst, doing a disservice to their cause. Essentially no different than Mr. Gendleman questioning why pro-Palestinian activists do not fight other causes, Professor Franke and fellow boycotters are effectively saying, “if you cannot find the energy to fight both causes, we won’t support you.” Actually, they are going one step further than not supporting them; they are working against them.

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting "pinkwashing" by Israeli government, June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting "pinkwashing" by Israeli government, June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

And that is the final reason why the IDF staged photo is troubling. The IDF’s cause is a military one. But the timing of this photo thrusts it into the “pinkwashing” debate. Why didn’t the IDF post the photo last year? Or the year before? Or the year before that? The status of gays in the military has not just undergone some drastic revision. So why now? The IDF should leave the “pinkwashing” debate to the diplomats and the activists.

The efforts of Israel’s LGBT activists should be recognized – globally – and their successes should be applauded. That can be done at the same time as the government flaunts Israel’s hi-tech achievements. And it can be done at the same time as Israel struggles with its occupation of territory and people. All of these things can exist simultaneously in a multi-cultured, multi-faceted, multi-party society.

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, Moscow police were arresting activists in the city who participate in an unauthorized parade. (A 100-year ban on “gay propaganda” in the Russian capital is now in its fifth year. And St. Petersburg recently adopted a similar measure.)

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting Moscow, June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Participants in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade protesting Moscow, June 8, 2012 (photo: Roee Ruttenberg)

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, in the United States – despite President Barack Obama’s “evolved” ideas on gay marriage – gay men are still legally barred from serving as scout leaders in the boy scouts.

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, gay Palestinians who fear for their lives in the West Bank and Gaza still have to flee. Some hide out illegally in Tel Aviv. (This narrative is highlighted in the film “The Invisible Men,” screening this week at the Tel Aviv Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, which is ironically boycotted by “QUIT – Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism.”)

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, in South Africa on Tuesday, a gay man was brutally slain in his home in what police are calling a hate crime.

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, globally, 76 countries are said to have anti-gay legislation on their books – notoriously among them, Uganda – and almost all have a total ban on blood donations from gay men.

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, in Nairobi, two gay men were beaten by a mob in late May, while this week a gay Kenyan was stoned to death.

Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, Iran still officially sentences gay men to death by stoning.

Call Israel’s policy “pinkwashing” if you like. But it’s better than “pinkstoning.”

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    1. yankl

      There’s no law banning gays from the Boy-Scouts, it’s a private organization and private organizations in the US are allowed to ban whomever they please. The Scouts aren’t run by the government, in fact many municipalities that used to give them free space to use have stopped because they violate ordinances against discrimination.

      Reply to Comment
    2. MarcB

      Pink washing is abuse (of Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians, just as much as of the LGBTI community itself), completely unnecessary and regrettable. It has nothing to do with “celebrating achievements”.

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    3. Mitchell Cohen

      For all those upset about Israel’s “pink washing”, maybe Israel should just cancel the gay pride parades and refrain from participating in gay pride month. Would you be happier?

      Reply to Comment
    4. BOOZ

      @Mitchell Cohen :

      For once there’s an article in 972+ explaining everything is not so bad in Israel as one might think…this is rare enough to be commended : – ))

      Reply to Comment
    5. Dalli

      One can most certainly criticise one’s ‘default allies’ if they ‘do little to show’ their commitment to the rights of Palestinians while allowing their achievements to be hijacked and used for nefarious purposes to the detriment of Palestinians. Of course gay rights should be furthered in Israel and elsewhere but gains made should not be allowed to be enlisted to divert attention from other instances of oppression. Silence on this equates to complicity and complicity that does a disservice to the furthering of gay rights in the Middle East. Queers need to be an ally of Palestinians to further the rights of Palestinian gays and lesbians. Also consider that the machismo that “Israeli society suffers from an incorrigible dose of” is best addressed through addressing homophobia AND the military and violent oppression of Palestinians.

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    6. max

      Roee, thanks for the well needed correct perspective! You seem one of only few of the contributors on this site who show a wish for dialogue, not just vilification.
      I fail to understand, however, your disagreement with the timing and staging of the IDF post.
      Granted, it could have done it earlier, and could have put it also on the Hebrew site (but see my comment below). However, since it didn’t put it earlier, does it mean it can’t put it now or later? And as its policy is quite known in Israel, and the IDF vilified in places like this very Foreigners-oriented 972 site, can’t it reply of sort, to set a straight message?
      In the current Israeli context of religion and army, flagging the IDF policy in Hebrew would’ve been a brave but wrong provocation.
      Finally, the staging: in my opinion the failure was to not add a disclaimer explaining that – as is well understood in most ads – the photo is for illustration only.

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    7. sh

      And stonewashing preferred over both ;-).

      It’s all got to do with facades. We need to look like we’re doing the right thing, so that whatever we actually do will matter less. A system that seems to end up leaving egg on quite a few faces.

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    8. Sinjim

      Jesus Christ, what a load this article is. At no point do you stop to consider the effect of pinkwashing on queer Palestinians. You don’t bother to understand how dehumanizing and degrading it is for us to be used not only as props by your government but against our own people too.
      Whether you like it or not, the Equality Forum featuring Israel was a huge slap in the face to queer Palestinians and any Palestinian who cares about human rights. There was not a single queer Palestinian invited to speak, even though 1 out of 5 Israelis is not Jewish. No one made mention of how queer Palestinians are treated by your country, from the blackmail by your security services to the fact that Israel the gay haven has never granted a single one asylum. We were (and still are considering your defense of this despicable behavior) completely invisible, and it’s entirely deliberate too.
      As for the notion that gay rights and Palestinian rights are separate, it must be so nice to compartmentalize causes in such a fashion. Never mind that some gay people are Palestinian. Never mind that some gay people see anti-racism as an important aspect of their politics. No, that doesn’t matter. What matters is not offending liberal Zionists who might one day get off their liberal Zionist asses and offer more than just liberal Zionist words to the Palestinian cause. Calling them out on their hypocritical and contemptible silence, not on what is happening in another part if the world but rather what their own government is doing, equals working against them.
      For you what is most awful about pinkwashing is not that it’s a deliberate ploy by Israel to use gay rights as a deflection from criticism from its serious and brutal human and other rights violations with all the dehumanization that entails. No, it’s that the military has gone beyond its issue of security and made social commentary. that says it all really.

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    9. max

      Sinjim, if it’s OK to force a link between Israel’s occupation and Israel’s gay rights, than it is OK to force a link between Palestinians’ homophobia and Palestinians aspiration for a homeland – don’t claim rights before you cleaned up your homophobic house.

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    10. May

      Remember that a group of LGBT teens were slain in Tel Aviv 2 years ago! Crimes against LGBT people happen in Tel Aviv too.

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    11. dr. aniko szalay-kimla

      what a bizarre society have we turned into when 2 men holding hands offhandedly are considered gay OR 2 women holding hands can NOT be plain old or young girl friends without the tinge of they “must be” lesbian. where have our values of true deep same sex friendships disappeared to? is LOVE only possible between gays? and LOVE WITHOUT having sex between same sex friends thus declared impossible?

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    12. Max, the issue with pinkwashing is that gay rights are used deliberately and systematically to camouflage injustices perpetrated against Palestinians, as part of a strategic PR campaign. When this happens, many people are harmed, but most especially LGBTQ Palestinians, of which Sinjim is one. This doesn’t appear to have registered with you – or if it did, you responded with a staggering lack of understanding. Homophobia in the OPT poses a serious risk to the lives and wellbeing of LGBTQ Palestinians, and the Shin Bet has a nasty habit of using people’s sexuality to twist their arms when it comes to recruiting informants, knowing the risks LGBTQ Palestinians face and knowing that they can’t afford to say no. Sinjim touches on this and other problems in his comment. Do you honestly not see why, in the face of such exploitation, he and other LGBTQ Palestinians would be particularly averse to being used as pink paint in Israel’s PR kit? Why it might be a little difficult for them to see the army that regiments every aspect of their lives using LGBTQ rights as a way to touch up its image abroad?
      But all this is secondary to the palpable hurt in Sinjim’s comment. When I was a hotheaded teenager who could never be wrong, a long-suffering friend told me, “It’s more important to be kind than to be right.” When someone is obviously sore and talks about feeling degraded, it’s better to shelve the urge to get the last word in and respond with that hurt in mind, if we respond at all.

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    13. Rehmat

      Yes, Israeli ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren is very proud of Tel aviv being called THE PINK CITY. Besides, Washington-based ‘Human Rights First’ which is led by Chairman William Zabel and vice-Chairs Tom Bernstein, Kenneth Feinberg and Gail Furman – all Zionist Jews – claimed in 2011 report that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania and the Republic of Sudan – gays and lesbians are being put to death.

      YES – a nice piece of Israeli Hasbara indeed.


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    14. Miki

      As usual, Sinjim, well said! I agree with every word you wrote.
      The only thing I would add is the Mr Ruttenberg has been utterly dishonest by attempting to conflate an opposition to the Israeli state’s hasbara and pinkwashing of its occupation and apartheid policies against Palestinians as being the same as disrespecting LGBTI struggles inside Israel.
      Ruttenburg’s claim that Katherine Franke (and by default, no doubt, other well-known LGBTI rights activists such as Judith Butler, Dean Spade and Sherry Wolfe and many others) who have taken a principled and courageous stance in support of Palestinian human rights are “disrespecting Israeli gay rights activists, and at worst, doing a disservice to their cause”, is blatantly wrong and dishonest but also quite possible the biggest load of balony I have read in while from someone supposedly on the Left.
      None of these activists (Franke or any of the others I have mentioned) have renounced their support for the struggle for LGBTI rights either in Israel or any other country. Instead, they have in fact EXTENDED and RE-AFFIRMED their support for the global struggle for LGBTI rights by actually heeding the call of Palestinian Queers who have asked LGBTI activists around the world to stand in solidarity with them against Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies.
      In 2009, Haneen Maikey from the Palestinian Queer group, Al Qaws, told Haaretz that she refused to be part of Israel’s pinkwashing campaign against her people, saying, “Stop speaking in my name and using me for a cause you never supported in the first place. If you want to do me a favour, then stop bombing my friends, end your occupation, and leave me to rebuild my community. I’m aware that my society has a long way to go in terms of human rights and social issues, but it’s my responsibility, not yours.”

      Franke, along with many other Queers from around the world (including myself) also refuse to be part of Israel’s pinkwashing campaign and remain silent while the Israeli state use our struggles as Queers to justify their oppression, occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
      And this is because you can not compartmentalise, as Ruttenberg has attempted to do, the struggle for human rights. As Martin Luther King Jnr once noted “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

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    15. max

      Give us a break with your pinkwashing. Official Israel has its faults, its attitude towards gays isn’t one of them, and saying it loud and clear may be pride or silly advertising but isn’t washing with any color.
      What’s bloodwashing is shifting attention towards such trivial issues and divert it from the nearby atrocities that leave the Arab world – including Palestinians – silent.
      Starting by brownwashing Palestinian attitude towards gays and following by redwashing their silence in regards to their Syrian brothers.
      Could Assad’s massacres be anything but an Israeli blackwashing?
      And you want to be taken seriously, show the moral high-ground…

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    16. Rehmat

      “Could Assad’s massacres be anything but an Israeli blackwashing?”

      MAX – You mean ADL newsletter did not publish the following nes?

      On July 4, 2011 – a conference of Syrian anti-regime groups was held in Saint-Germain in France. The meeting was attended by 200 people representing none of the Syrian groups calling for reforms in Syria – the ‘Democratic change in Syria’. The meeting was organized by La Regle du Jeu (The Rule of the Game) magazine and website which is headed by Zionist Jew Bernard-Henri Levy. The other Zionist Jews who attended the meeting included Bernard Kouchner, former French foreign minister, Frederik Ansel, a member of Israel’s ruling Likud Party, Alex Goldfarb, former Knesset member and adviser to Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and Andre Glucksmann, an Islamophobe French writer….


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    17. sh

      Brava Dr. Aniko!

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    18. Miki

      If anyone needs a break Max it is us from your drivel. The unfortunate fact for you is that the Zionist state’s strategic use of pinkwashing as part of the “Brand Israel” whitewashing and normalisation campaign has been well documented (for example, see Sarah Schulman’s A Documentary Guide to Pinkwashing http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-schulman/israel-pinkwashing_b_1132369.html )
      * *
      Since you like to preach about “the high moral ground”, can you name a time when either yourself or any Zionist group have moved beyond rhetoric and actually participate in or organise an action/activity against Assad or in support of any Arab peoples which was part of a solidarity activity which genuinely put their struggle first, rather than using their cause to promote Israel’s agenda?
      The reality is that most Zionists are not actually genuinely interested in the human rights of Palestinian or any other Arab person in the region. What you are actually interested in is using the struggles of Palestinians within their community and the struggles other Arab peoples to deflect attention and criticism of the Israel’s apartheid and occupation regime and the human rights abuses being carried out by the Zionist state.
      Unlike Ruttenberg and yourself, I don’t compartmentalise my activism or my opposition to human rights abuses and neither do most other Palestine solidarity activists/human rights activists I know. Not only have I actively participated in the actions being organised in support of the Syrian people’s uprising against Assad, I have in the past, when Saddam Hussein was still viewed as an American ally, I regularly worked with Iraqi women organising demonstrations, including demonstrations opposing the beheading of 300 women in Iraq. Similarly, I have also participated in actions in support of the struggle of Afghani women (including when the Taliban was still viewed as an ally of the USA). Can you say the same?
      If you want to talk about taking the high moral ground, than how about doing what Haneen Maikey demands: stop using other people struggles to whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses and apartheid regime, not only is it political dishonest, it a disgraceful and cynical exploitation of other people for Israel’s own political gain.

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    19. Palestinian

      If 10% of Palestinian youth were gay , would Israel grant asylum to us ?

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    20. max

      Miki, I applaud your full time commitment to fighting the wrongs in our world, and your closeness to god that enables you to know what Zionists are interested in.
      But, with so many responsibilities, you may not have enough time to read. I didn’t claim the moral high ground, I claim that you are the one who does. And I claim that given the Palestinians – are you their representative? – abysmal human rights record, you’d have a hard time claiming colorwashing when you ignore it.
      Or did you miss in your list your fight against Palestinian homophobia?
      To preempt your next fabrication: I didn’t say that I approve of Israel’s human rights record for all topics, I say that the claim of pinkwashing is either dumb, dishonest or both.

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    21. caden

      Miki, I really wish you people would stop with the “zionist” stuff. Just sat what you really mean, which is JEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    22. zayzafouna

      I too am sick of the pinkwashing. I have always been of the opinion that gays must ally themselves with Hamas and Hezbollah against the zionist entity. Why would I say this? While Hamas and Hezbollah are today not gay friendly, they may be if we demonstrate to them that we are reliable allies. Thus, we have the possibility of providing much relief against gays if we ally ourselves with enemies of zionism

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    23. Mitchell Cohen

      @Zayzafouna, sure kiddo!!!! ROTFL

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    24. zayzafuna

      no mitchell, I am not kidding. There are tons of gays in the ranks of Hamas and Hezbollah, but they have the self discipline to put country first, not themselves first

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    25. At last, a balanced perspective on redwashing.

      Yes, I too would like to know why it is that pro-Palestinian advocates are so damned myopic and blindly refuse to ackmowledge Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah’s abuse of Palestinian Authority LGBT citizens and the *execution* of LGBT inhabitants of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Sudan and Somalia, in addition to the manifold abuse of human rights and civil liberties by such societies.

      Or the lauding of reactionary regimes and political figures merely because they’re anti-Israel, anti-war or support drug decriminalisation (eg Ron Paul, US Republican presidential candidate).

      That said, I do have some problems with the IDF’s use of overwhelming military force against Palestinian civilians, for that matter. And I’m under no illusions about the fanaticism of Haredim and Hasidism ultra-Orthodox Jews on a range of issues.

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    26. Lev

      There are some good points in this article, but I really disagree with the overall message. This bit especially: “Remember that while Tel Aviv held its 20th annual gay pride parade last week, gay Palestinians who fear for their lives in the West Bank and Gaza still have to flee. Some hide out illegally in Tel Aviv.”
      I don’t see how you can separate the issue of occupation from the issue of gay rights – in crisis situations, like poverty and war, homophobia and sexism flourish, because if you’re being downtrodden, you want someone else to tread on…
      I agree that Israel’s support for LGBT rights is sincere and earnest, but these ideas of “pinkstoning” and these arguments that Israel’s better than other Middle Eastern and African countries really overlook the colonialism that made things that way.

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