What's a pro-gay, anti-Israel activist to do when faced with the fact that the Jewish state is the only nation in the Middle East in which not only is it illegal to discriminate against homosexuality, but where homosexuality is celebrated with an annual gay pride parade? To such activists, the answer is obvious: invent a bogus theory called "pinkwashing" that accuses Israel of touting gay rights in order to downplay its alleged oppression of the Palestinians.
The University of California, Los Angeles's Center for Near Eastern Studies recently jumped into the fray with a lecture comically titled, "Pinkwashing: Gay Rights and Queer [sic] Indigeneities" (the term "indigeneities," an invented piece of academic jargon, is derived from "indigenous"). In a sparsely attended presentation rife with post-colonialist rhetoric, Nada Elia, a professor of gender and global studies at Antioch University in Seattle and a member of the organizing committee of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), attempted to align her support for "Palestinian queer activism" with her devotion to all things anti-Israel.
Stating up front that she prefers to be called a "scholar-activist," Elia wasted no time describing Israel as "a settler-colonial power that violates human rights" and therefore, "has an image problem." Despite the multicultural and multi-religious nature of Israeli society, she maintained that "a Jewish state is an exclusive state," and that:
As [Israel] persists in its desire to be a Jewish state, it can only indulge in image-fixing . . . to cover up for the crimes it is unrepentant for.
In order to achieve these nefarious goals, Elia claimed Israel, "uses 'gay-friendly' as a mask to distract from the reality." Worse, she noted, referencing a quote from Wayne Firestone, the president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, "the Foreign Ministry [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs] is sending out the 'cool, hip people' to distract from the reality of war." She lamented that this "propaganda" is only "fixing the image, not the policies." Never mind that Israel truly is a bastion for "cool, hip people" in the region, as its thriving economy demonstrates; to tell the world as much is considered criminal.
Pointing to the efforts of the Israeli government, Israeli and American citizens, and the Brand Israel group, a volunteer coalition of marketing and communications executives, to draw attention to Israel's vibrant society, Elia concluded, "This is where the gay market comes in." Although Israel is by no means the only nation or entity to engage in "gay tourism" and "gay marketing," she attributes sinister motives to an endeavor that, as she put it, presents Israel as "gay-friendly, unlike the homophobic Palestinians. Israel is civilized; Palestinians are barbaric, homophobic." Perhaps she should ask gay Palestinians themselves, particularly those who have found acceptance and safety in Israel—limitations based on security concerns notwithstanding—just how "homophobic" their culture really is.
Elia referred to the experience of "queer Palestinians" on several occasions, but only to bash Israel:
Israel may be gay-friendly for tourists, citizens . . . but not for Palestinians. Israel is the greater purveyor of institutionalized violence regardless of sexuality. . . . The queer Palestinian community in Israel has long known that it is disenfranchised not because it's gay, but because it's Palestinian.
This claim conveniently omits the grisly details regarding the "institutionalized violence" and "disenfranchisement" meted out to gays in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including honor killings by and of family members, jail sentences for sodomy (which was decriminalized in Israel in 1987), abduction, torture, rape, and murder.
Tacitly acknowledging the danger to gay Palestinians accused of collaboration, Elia still blamed Israel:
A lot of queer Palestinians are suspected of being collaborators. There is some degree of truthfulness because Israel knows—every Palestinian is spied on somehow—if there is suspicion that a Palestinian is gay, they are arrested and then recruited. They threaten to 'out them.' This increases the homophobia. It's aggravating the circumstances of gays in Palestine.
Anti-Israel activists have been plying this conspiratorial charge for years, but Menachem Landau, a veteran of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency quoted in a 2003 Reuters article, questioned the logic at hand: "Gays are already treated with suspicion in Palestinian society. So what good are they for covert work?" Moreover, Palestinian police have been known to torture gays into spying on other homosexuals, while Palestinian terrorists groups—much as they do with "dishonored" women—have tried to coerce them into carrying out suicide bombings.
Elia's criticism of Israel even extended to gay rights, as she claimed that, "pinkwashing denies there is homophobia in Israel." Yet she admitted, in a rare moment of lucidity, that "I don't know any country where there is no homophobia." She later described "pinkwashing" as a "twenty-first century manifestation of the Orientalist agenda" and, alluding to Rudyard Kipling's The White Man's Burden, added:
Prior to that colonial powers pretended to save brown women from brown men. Now it's a matter of saving the brown gays from, primarily, the brown men. It's the burden of the white gay international.
Actually, it's left-wing academics such as Elia who see the world in "brown and white" terms.
Beyond peddling the "pinkwashing" meme, Elia proffered a revisionist history aimed at delegitimizing Israel. She denied that, "coming out of the Holocaust [Jews] had to find a safe place," and instead cited "European" and "imperial expansion" as the impetus for Israel's founding as a "colonialist-settler movement."
Claiming, against all evidence, that the "Zionist narrative" viewed the early Arab inhabitants of Palestine as a "subhuman people who shouldn't exist," Elia invoked the well-known phrase—originated by nineteenth century Christian writers—"a land without a people for a people without a land" to imply that the early Zionists set out to destroy a civilization. In fact, Jews and Arabs coexisted in the region, despite tensions, long before Israel's founding and could have done so afterward had the Arabs accepted the offer of their own state in 1948, or some of the many offers spurned since.
Elia ascribed malevolence to Israel's founding and repeated the thoroughly debunked anecdote about two rabbis who, following a fact-finding mission from Vienna to Palestine in the late nineteenth century, were said to have sent back a cable reading, "The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man." That the story has no basis in history was either unknown or disregarded, both by Elia and her audience, which judging by its behavior during the question and answer period was made up primarily of sycophants. It included two academic members of the USACBI "organizing collective" who share Elia's anti-Israel views: Sondra Hale, professor emerita of anthropology and women's studies at UCLA, and Sherna Berger Gluck, professor emerita of women's studies and history at California State University, Long Beach. Elia was in her element.
No audience member asked an obvious question: In light of Israel's purported "settler-colonialism" and "pinkwashing" and the discrimination gay Palestinians face in their own society, what are the alternatives? Had they done so, Elia might have elaborated on her utopian proposal, outlined in the lecture's announcement, for "a queer state, which allows individual citizens to define themselves as they wish, without losing power, entitlement, or safety." Given the reaction that a Jewish state has elicited in the region, one can only imagine how a "queer state" would be received. Yet Elia and her fellow travelers prefer a fictional "queer state" to an actual country where gays are welcomed—a sure sign that, for them, bigotry trumps reality.
Reut R. Cohen (www.reutrcohen.com), a journalist, researcher, and photographer, co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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