Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homonationalism, Israel Style: The Foreign Ministry and “Pinkwashing” / Aeyal Gross

On May 9, 2012, the Israeli daily Haaretz published an op-ed by Aeyal Gross in Hebrew:

With the author's approval, I am publishing my translation of his article below:

Homonationalism, Israel Style: TheForeign Ministry and “Pinkwashing”

Aeyal Gross

In 1998, after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Israeli transgender pop singer Dana International was asked about a potential conflict between having allegedly represented “the Jewish state” and the opposition fromJewish religious leaders to her very being. She responded that she had beenchosen to represent the State of Israel, not the state of the Jews. In Israel,Dana said, there were Arab citizens, Christians and others, and she represented the entire populace of Israel, not the Jewish state. Furthermore, she indicated, she represented “everyone who wants to be represented by me”.

 DanaInternational’s approach rejected exclusionary concepts of nationalism and representation, while deconstructing the notion of representation which is based on ethnicity and identity. In their lieu, she expressed a post-modern approach,by which she represented all individuals who indeed wanted to be represented by her. Yet now, this representation, too, is being appropriated by the Israeli propaganda mechanism: in his keynote speech at the Equality Forum in Philadelphialast weekend, Ambassador Michael Oren included Dana’s performance in his enumeration of evidence for Israel’s commitment to equality to its lesbian,gay, bisexuals and transgender citizens (LGBTs).

But if Dana’s Eurovision performance was an opportunity forOren to appropriate an event from the past, we must turn to yet another part of his speech, which was essentially a rewriting of the facts, in an effort to co-opt gay rights as a fig leaf – perhaps the last one left – for Israeli democracy,and to use this issue to conceal the wrongs of the occupation. In his speech,as well as in an interview leading up to it, Oren claimed that Israel had been fighting for gay rights since before 1967. It may be useful to remind Oren that in 1967, and in fact until 1988, the Israeli penal code included a prohibition on same-sex acts for men. While this law had ceased to be enforced since the1950s vis-à-vis consenting adults, in light of directives from the attorneygeneral, its incriminating shadow was definitely intact. Israel had not fought for gay rights in the 1960s, nor did it in the 1970s. Only in the late 1980sand early 1990s had there begun progress in this area, as a result of a concerted effort by community activists and a small number of politicians who supported them. This progress included the repeal of the criminal prohibition of “sodomy” and the creation of legislation and court rulings against discrimination. Nowadays, this progress – part true and part fiction – is being co-opted by Israeli “hasbara.”

Israeli LGBTs aren’t the only ones being appropriated. So are the Palestinians. Oren claimed in his speech that Israel granted shelter toPalestinian groups that could not operate in the occupied territories. In fact, Israel has refused to grant asylum to gay Palestinians who had requested just that. The Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University published a detailed report in 2008, in which it describes Israel’s refusal to even consider requests for asylum from gay Palestinians. True, two Palestinian LGBT organizations that operate in both Israel and the occupied territories are based in Israel, but Israel has never given them “shelter,” and appropriating them for the sake of Israeli propaganda is infuriating, given Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians in Israel itself and in the territories – especially when we consider that this appropriation is done in order to deflect from this very oppression in an attempt to portray Israel as a liberal democracy.

The protesters, including the Israelis among them, were therefore correct in accusing Oren of a move that has gained the epithet“pinkwashing” around the world. Now that we are about to mark the month of pride, the challenge faced by the LGBT community in Israel is whether it wishes to collaborate with such a move, within the framework of what has become known as “homonationalism,” or whether it intends to celebrate the achievements and progress in the realm of LGBT equality in Israel, within the context of a commitment to equality to all who suffer from oppression and discrimination, including the Palestinian population.

Update: Haaretz eventually published its own English version of the article:

Which translation is better? You be the judge!

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