Michael Oren pinkwashes the truth about Israel and gay Palestinians

The appropriation of gay rights in Israel diverts the conversation from Palestinian oppression in an attempt to present Israel as a liberal democracy.

After she won the 1998 Eurovision competition, Israeli pop star Dana International was asked about the potential conflict between the fact that she represented the “Jewish state” and the fierce opposition by the religious to gay, lesbian and transgender people. Her response was that she was chosen to represent the State of Israel, not the Jewish state. According to Dana, Israel includes citizens of all kinds and sexes, Jews and Arabs. “I represent anyone who wants to be represented by me,” Dana said.

Thus, Dana International went against the exclusionary outlook of nationalism and representation, while deconstructing the idea that representation is necessarily based on ethnic nationalism and identity. Instead, she expressed support for a postmodern outlook according to which she represents those who want to be represented by her. But now, even this kind of representation is being appropriated by the Israeli propaganda machine. In a speech given at the Equality Forum in Philadelphia, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren listed Dana International as one part in a body of evidence that points to Israel’s support for the LGBT community.

And if Oren’s bit about Dana speaks to the appropriation that was, a different part of his speech constitutes a rewriting of the facts for the sake of waving gay rights as a fig leaf, perhaps the last for Israeli democracy, in order to obscure the injustices of the occupation. In both his speech as well as in an interview given later, Oren clamed that Israel was fighting for gay rights before the 1967 war. Perhaps Oren should be reminded that in 1967, and actually until 1988, homosexual intercourse was considered illegal under Israeli law. Despite the fact that the Attorney General issued instructions not to use that law when the subjects in question are men in a consensual relationship back in the 1950s, the shadow of discrimination has never really disappeared.

Israel did not fight for the rights of gays, not in the sixties nor in the seventies. Only at the end of the eighties and in the nineties, in the wake of vigorous activism on the part of members of the LGBT community and a small number of politicians who supported them, did any progress take place. This included the cancelation of the criminality of homosexual intercourse and the creation of a law and a ruling that would prevent discrimination. Now, said progress, part real and part imagined, is being appropriated for Israeli hasbara.

Not only is the LGBT community being appropriated, but so are the Palestinians. Oren claimed in his speech that Israel provide asylum for LGBT Palestinian organizations that cannot freely operate in the territories. In reality, Israel has refused to take in LGBT Palestinians. A report published in 2008 by the Refugee Rights Clinic of Tel Aviv University describes Israel’s refusal to even weigh the requests for asylum by LGBT Palestinians. While the headquarters of two LGBT Palestinian organizations that operate in both Israel and in the West Bank are located in Israel, the state does not give them “shelter,” and their appropriation for Israel’s propaganda needs is outrageous – not only because of the ongoing oppression of Palestinians in Israel and in the territories, but also because the appropriation is done in order to divert the conversation from Palestinian oppression in an attempt to present Israel as a liberal democracy.

The protesters, among them Israelis, were right to blame Oren for what is known across the world as “pinkwashing.” Now, with Pride Month is just around the corner, the question that the Israeli LGBT community faces is whether or not it will participate in Oren’s tactics, under the framework known as “homo-nationalism,” or to celebrate the achievements and progress toward equality of the LGBT community in Israel, out of a commitment to equality for anyone who suffers oppression and discrimination, including the Palestinian community