Rainbow flag and ‘Pinkwashing’

Rachel Shabi, a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands, shares her opinion on “Pinkwashing” and proves that Israel has still a long way to go on LGBT rights.

Weeks ago, the White House and thousands of Facebook profile pictures turned rainbow coloured in celebration of the US Supreme Court decision to legalise same-sex marriage. In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian artist painted the same rainbow symbol in giant format on a prominent part of Israel’s separation wall – and then Palestinian protesters painted over it. Cue the media items that juxtaposed the intolerant Palestinian position against Israel’s gay-friendly track record.

But is it really this simple? The artist who painted the rainbow colours on the graffiti-covered separation wall – right next to paintings of Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders – doesn’t think it so.

Khaled Jarrar, whose work has been exhibited internationally, says that the viral rainbows prompted by the US same-sex marriage decision “got me thinking about all these international activists and ordinary citizens who were celebrating freedom for a group of people who have historically been oppressed,” he wrote. “And the use of the rainbow as a symbol of freedom and equality and what it could represent for other oppressed groups.”

But what could have started an intersectional conversation about struggles – one that historically has been in the weave of the LGBT movement – was narrowed down, he says, to the usual battle lines of enlightened Israel v the backward Middle East.

Of course, none of this is to dispute the basic facts: Tel Aviv has become a gay-friendly tourist destination – it would be churlish to claim otherwise, or pretend that this isn’t important. Meanwhile, Palestinian society treats homosexuality as taboo – and while there are several local organisations working to challenge this on the ground right now, to suggest this isn’t an issue would plainly be a bad case of cultural relativism.

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