Pinkwashing: Another Conspiracy Theory

Alan M. Dershowitz argues that critics of Israeli "pinkwashing" are just anti-Semites.

Sigal Samuel completely misunderstands the dynamics of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate speech. The key is the headline. The goal is to create a word—whether it be “apartheid”, “racism” or “pinkwashing”—that sticks. Creating the headline is then followed by rationalizations, explanations, footnotes and sometimes a bit of quiet backtracking. This is what Jimmy Carter did when you used the word “apartheid” in the title of his book and then backed away from that accusation in the text. It is what the BDS movement does when it calls Israel “racist” and then says its real grievance is the occupation. And this is precisely what Sarah Schulman has done by launching her accusation of “pinkwashing” against Israel—headline and all—in the New York Times and then “explaining” it in subsistent unread pages, in which she persists on calling Israel a “racist” state (don’t expect a footnoted explanation of that headline word).

The accusation that Israel is “pinkwashing” its bad treatment of Palestinians by its good treatment of gays is nothing more than a new variation on a discredited old theme. The core characteristic of anti-Semitism is the assertion that everything the Jews do is wrong, and everything that is wrong is done by the Jews. For the anti-Semite every rich Jew is exploitive, every poor Jew a burden on society. For the anti-Semite, both capitalism and Communism are Jewish plots. For the anti-Semite, Jews are both too docile, allowing themselves to be led to the slaughter like sheep, and too militant, having won too many wars against the Arabs. For the anti-Semite, Jews are too liberal and too conservative, too artsy and too bourgeois, too stingy and too charitable, too insular and too cosmopolitan, too moralistic and too conniving.

To the anti-Semite, every depression, war, social problem, plague must have been the fault of the Jews. Whenever the Jews appear to be doing something good—giving charity, helping the less fortunate, curing the sick – there must be a malevolent motive, a hidden agenda, a conspiratorial explanation beneath the surface of the benevolent act.

To the anti-Semite, “the Jews” always act as a collective. They plot, conspire and work hand-in-hand toward the common goal of Jewish domination. The protocols of the “Elders of Zion” are the paradigm of the manner through which “the Jew” operates. Nothing is ever a coincidence. Everything is the calculated product of “protocols” or conspiratorial action.

Now the very twisted illogic that has characterized classic anti-Semitism is being directed at the Jewish state, which for the anti-Semite has become "the Jew" among nations. When Israel sent help to tsunami and hurricane victims, the Jewish state was accused of merely trying to garner positive publicity calculated to offset its mistreatment of Palestinians. When Israeli medical teams save the lives of Palestinian children, they must be up to no good. When it was disclosed that the Israeli army has the lowest rate of rape against enemy civilians, radical anti-Zionists argued that this was because Israeli soldiers were so racist that they did not find Palestinian women attractive enough to rape! Nothing the Jew or the Jew among nations does can be praised, because its purpose is always to "manipulate," to "conceal," to "divert attention away from" or to "distort" the evil that inheres in all Jewish actions and inactions. Everything the Jewish nation does is part of a grand conspiratorial plan.

That is the bigoted thesis of a new anti-Israel campaign being conducted by some radical gay activists who absurdly claim that Israel is engaging in "pinkwashing." This burlesque of an argument first surfaced in a New York Times op-ed that claimed that Israel's positive approach to gay rights is "a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violation of Palestinians human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life." In other words, the Jew among nations is now being accused of promoting the rights of gay people in order to whitewash—or in this case pinkwash—its lack of concern for Palestinian people.

How this pinkwashing is supposed to work, we aren't told. Is the media supposed to be so obsessed with Israel's positive policies toward gays that it will no longer cover the Palestinian issue? If so, that certainly hasn't worked. Are gays around the world supposed to feel so indebted to Israel that they will no longer criticize the Jewish nation? That surely hasn't worked, as evidenced by increasingly rabid anti-Israel advocacy by several gay organizations. Well, to the unthinking anti-Semite, it doesn't matter how the Jewish manipulation works. The anti-Semite just knows that there must be something sinister at work if Jews do anything positive. The same is now true for the unthinking anti-Israel bigot.

Moreover, Israel’s positive approach to gay rights is seen as part of some grand coordinated plan concocted by “the Elders” of the Zionist state who want to keep oppressing Palestinians. It is not the result of uncoordinated efforts by individuals, groups or institutions—such as gay rights organizations, the Israel Supreme Court, conservative and reform rabbis, the Army—that care about gay rights. No! When the Jewish state promotes gay rights, it does it for one malevolent and coordinated reason: to pinkwash its treatment of Palestinians. Was there a meeting? A memo? How were these diverse elements coordinated toward a common end?

The “evidence” Schulman presents in “support” of her conspiratorial claim all goes to show that numerous groups acted independently to promote gay tourism, branding, etc. These include the Municipality of Tel Aviv, the Interdisciplinary Center, the Foreign Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, various gay groups, and even “an Israeli pornography producer.”

Of course Israeli institutions are proud of their accomplishments, whether with regard to gay rights, the environment, high tech, medical breakthroughs and civil liberties. Of course, like every other country, tourism is promoted by emphasizing the positive. But only the Jew among nations is accused of conspiratorially exploiting their accomplishments as a “deliberate strategy” to “wash” away their sins.

In Israel, openly gay soldiers have long served in the military and in high positions in both government and the private sector, in universities and in the arts. Gay pride parades are frequent. Israel is, without a doubt, the most gay friendly country in the Middle East and among the most supportive of gay rights anywhere in the world. This, despite efforts by some fundamentalist Jews, Muslims and Christians to ban gay pride parades and legal equality for gays. (Are they too part of some grand plan?) In contrast to Israel are the West Bank and Gaza, where gays are murdered, tortured and forced to seek asylum—often in Israel. In every Arab and Muslim country, homosexual acts among consenting adults are criminal, often punishable by death. But all this doesn't matter to the "growing global gay movement" against Israel, which according to the New York Times op-ed, regards the promotion of positive steps with regard to gay rights as nothing more than a cover for malevolent Israeli actions.

Disturbingly, Schulman, in her New York Times op-ed, tried to pinkwash Palestinian homophobia, by mendaciously asserting that homosexuality is legally and morally acceptable and gay rights groups are thriving in the West Bank. (She pulls back from this preposterous claim in her later writing.) Even she doesn’t try to praise Hamas for making Gaza City a “gay destination!”

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The pinkwash bigots would apparently prefer to see Israel treat gays the way Israel's enemies do, because they hate Israel more than they care about gay rights. Nor do these pink anti-Semites speak for the majority of gay people, who appreciate Israel's positive steps with regard to gay rights, even if they don't agree with all of Israel's policies. Decent gay people who have themselves been subjected to stereotyping, recognize bigotry when they see it, even—perhaps especially—among other gay people. That's why so many prominent gay leaders and public officials have denounced this "pinkwashing" nonsense.

Now this pinkwashing campaign is coming to the City University of New York. A pinkwashing conference is being sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Studies Center at The Graduate Center on April 10 and 11, 2013. It will be yet another hate-fest against Israel, but this time it will cross the line into classic anti-Semitic tropes. Don't be fooled by its benign pink hue, or its academic pretext. At its core, the newly-fashioned charge of pinkwashing is little different from the old-fashioned charges leveled by brown-shirted anti-Semites—namely, that neither the Jews nor the Jewish state ever does good things without bad motives. And this time, the hate conference is being co-sponsored by the Philosophy and Psychology Departments and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, as well as by the Center for The Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University.

Don’t expect a genuine academic conference, with conflicting perspectives being presented by actual scholars. Welcome to the new academy, where “truth” is known and contrary views are unnecessary, and where the goals of conferences are headlines, political correctness and the academic legitimation of anti-Israel hate speech.

It is necessary to expose this shameful exploitation of sexual orientation designed to promote what amounts to pink anti-Semitism. Silence in the face of bigotry is not an option, even if only a small number of radical gays buy into the pinkwashing nonsense. This is especially true when the bigotry is being cosponsored by academic departments that would never sponsor hate speech against other groups. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Shaming is the best response.

This essay is adapted from a Feb. 24, 2013, New York Post op-ed by Alan M. Dershowitz.