Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some things are just too hard to pinkwash

For the sake of this post, I will assume we all know what pinkwashing is. Anyone who needs a tutorial is hereby referred to Sarah Schulman's much-discussed op-ed in the New York Times Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’ published in November of 2011.

One of the mantras that we frequently hear from people who promote Israel as The Only Democracy In The Middle East (TODITME) and a gay haven is that members of the LGBT community can serve openly in the so-called Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, which is the official euphemism for the Israeli military. Apart from the fact that Israel has mandatory conscription for a majority of its population (well, if they are Jewish, but not ultra-Orthodox or female-Orthodox, or if they are male Druze), making it illegal for most LGBT 18 year-olds to refuse to serve, a recent incident has painted "the most moral army in the world" (another widespread myth) in very different light.

On March 20, 2012, Associated Press reported that the weekly magazine Bamahane (literally, 'On the Base'), published by the IDF's Education and Youth Corps, has gotten "in trouble" over a report about male soldiers who in their spare time participated in drag shows. The Israeli daily Haaretz ran a similar, slightly more detailed piece on the topic the same day, in both its original Hebrew and translated English editions. The main new piece of information in Haaretz is that this was the Purim edition of Bamahane. To me, this is telling on a number of levels. First, it means that the IDF could not even tolerate a bit of Purim-spiel in the spirit of holiday festivities. It also means, however, that matters of gender expression are a priori relegated to positions of mischief and ridicule, which is troubling in and of its own.

Now, the Hebrew Haaretz piece also included a statement by Shai Doitsh, president of the Agudah, Israel's association of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, condemning censorship against LGBT contents in IDF publications, given that it is, as he sees it, "one of the most progressive armies in the world." But there is more. Also on March 20, the Hebrew news site, which had recently launched a [Gay] Pride portal, published an even more detailed account of the events that led to the looming censorship of LGBT-related contents in Bamahane. Here we learn that the order came from the very top, namely from Major General Orna Barbivai, commander of the IDF Manpower [sic] Directorate. Ironic, isn't it, that the first woman to break the gender barrier and earn the second-highest rank in the Israeli military is now combatting nonconforming expressions of gender by her soldiers. What the general said, according to the Mako article, is that she would prevent the army publications from airing and future "provocative" articles.

Mako also reveals (and this may be old news to many of its veteran readers) that the editor of Bamahane, Major Yoni Shanfeld, is himself an out gay man, and that both the current and previous chief military rabbis have chastised him for publishing articles that included coming out stories of soldiers and officers.

The stories we hear from pinkwashers on a regular basis really don't matter much. They are of no interest to the average Palestinian who has exactly zero human rights in the eyes of her occupiers. Yet sometimes it is important to understand that even the things that they tell us about the glorious lives of Israeli LGBTs are borderline mythical.

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