Last Saturday Queers Against Israeli Apartheid disrupted the Auckland Pride parade to protest the Embassy of Israel’s float. In a statement first published on GayNZ.com they explained their reasons for opposing pinkwashing of Israel’s human rights violations.
We are Arabs, Jews, Māori, Pasifika, Asians, Africans, Pākehā. We are queer. We value the work that LGBTI activists before us have done to improve the lives of queers in Aotearoa and the world over. We value Pride for creating a queer-positive space where our community can come together and celebrate who we are.
But we are not proud that queer struggles are hijacked by the state of Israel in order to ‘pinkwash’ its colonial violence towards Palestinians. We were not proud to see the Embassy of Israel included in Auckland Pride. This is why we had to take a stand, to protect queer spaces from being complicit in Israeli apartheid.
For many, our protest came as a surprise. The Israeli embassy, however, had anticipated the presence of protesters. In a press release just days before the event, the embassy was clear that their participation in Pride was motivated, not by a desire to support LGBTI rights, but as a PR exercise in response to Wellington protests against an Israeli Embassy-sponsored dance show.
The cynical use of queer rights as a publicity strategy to create a positive, humane image for Israel is not new, nor is it exclusive to New Zealand. In 2011 the Jewish lesbian writer Sarah Schulman published an op-ed in the New York Times criticising Israel’s ‘strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life’. Other prominent queer Jews have echoed Schulman’s criticism of pinkwashing, including Judith Butler and Aeyal Gross.
The pinkwashing narrative presents a familiar racist trope: Arab societies are conservative, gender normative and homophobic. Israel is the only Middle-Eastern country where gays have equal rights. Queer Palestinians escaping persecution in their own communities relocate to Israel for asylum.
A 2008 report on gay Palestinian asylum seekers in Israel, published by Tel Aviv University’s Public Interest Law Program, presents a very different picture. The report found that gay Palestinians who escape to Israel live in the country illegally—since Palestinians are barred from applying for refugee status in Israel. This means that they are in constant danger of being deported back to communities where they will be subject to homophobic violence. Israeli security services have been known to exploit this vulnerability, and blackmail Palestinian gays into becoming informants.
Even for Jewish-Israelis, the country is not a queer-loving utopia. Two months ago a trans woman was viciously attacked on the streets of Tel Aviv. A gang of 11 men assaulted her with pepper spray and tasers. Israeli police were quick to dismiss the attack as a ‘prank’ and denied that it was motivated by transmisogyny. Her attackers, it turns out, were off-duty officers in Israel’s Border Police.
It’s not surprising that the same young men who spends weekdays shooting and tear-gassing Palestinians also spend their weekends assaulting trans women. This is the intersection of militarism and homophobia in which Palestinian and Israeli queers exist.
Palestinian queer organisations like al-Qaws, Aswat and Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions have called on the global queer community to support their struggle against both Israeli apartheid and queerphobia. That call has been answered around the world, by groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Canada, No Pride in Israeli Apartheid in the UK, and Black Laundry in Israel.
It’s out of a desire to support Palestinian queers, and in the tradition of intersectional queer politics, that we decided to take a public stand against the Israeli Embassy’s float at Auckland Pride. We know that some of our fellow queers think that Pride is not the appropriate time or place to make a political statement about Middle East politics. The argument that we shouldn’t mix pride parades with global politics sounds an awful lot like the 1980s argument that anti-apartheid protesters shouldn’t mix rugby with politics. We were not the ones who chose to use Pride as a platform for discussing Israel. The Israeli Embassy are the ones who decided to hijack a gay pride event and exploit it to uphold a progressive image of a state that subjects its Indigenous inhabitants to apartheid.
Our queer politics are rooted in the principle of ‘no one left behind’. We do not accept the advancement of gay men at the expense of lesbians, or of cis queers at the expense of trans people. We also cannot accept the advancement of any queers at the expense of Palestinians.
We recognise the link between colonisation of Palestine, and colonisation of Oceania and Aotearoa. Tagata Pasifika and tangata whenua gender and sexual diversity were violently displaced through the colonisation of this region. We celebrate the first ever Pasifika LGBT Youth float at Pride 2014. The hijacking of Pride to promote apartheid detracts from this celebration of diversity and solidarity.
We urge Auckland Pride—and all LGBT organisations in Aotearoa—to take a stand in solidarity with queer Palestinians and refuse to help Israel pinkwash its human rights abuses. There is no pride in being complicit with Israeli apartheid.