By Nisha Umesh:
On July 30th in Jerusalem, Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-orthodox Jewish man, stabbed 6 people at the annual Gay Pride Parade. Schlissel had just been released from prison, following his sentence for committing the very same crime 10 years ago.
The New York Times reports that a conservative radio station had interviewed Schlissel two weeks ago, during which he stated: “The battle is not over. Those unclean people want to continue defiling Jerusalem.” His words darkly foreshadow his attack, which stems from deep seated homophobia and an intolerance of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Following Schlissel’s assault, both the general public and Israeli government responded with outrage and disapproval. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the hate crime, stating, “In the state of Israel the individual’s freedom of choice is one of basic values. We must ensure that in Israel, every man and woman lives in security in any way they choose.” His statement exudes the notion that Israel is a “progressive” and benevolent country, which values civil and human rights across the board.
However, Netanyahu’s words are meaningless in light of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. We cannot praise the political leader of a country for “social progressiveness,” while the very country he presides over has committed mass atrocities against the Palestinians. For instance, Ali Saad Dawabsheh, an 18-month child, is the fourth Palestinian killed by Israelis this past week. Settlers set fire to his family’s house, burning him to death and injuring the rest of his relatives. Moreover, Israel’s occupation of Palestine means that thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned, the borders of Palestine are patrolled, and food and medicine are prohibited from being brought into the Gaza strip. According to an annual report by the United Nations, 2,314 Palestinians were killed and 17,125 were injured by the Israeli military last summer, which is greater than any number of killings since the occupation began in 1967.
Instead of celebrating Benjamin Netanyahu’s shallow attempt to support LGBTQIA+ rights, we must call attention to the hypocrisy that Israel is demonstrating. The attempt to seem politically inclusive in light of the occupation of Palestine is called “pinkwashing“. This is when Israel utilises gay rights as a tool of propaganda to create a facade that they are a benevolent and democratic country.
On June 26th, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal nationwide. As celebrations occurred across the country and a barrage of rainbow filtered profile pictures flooded my Facebook timeline, I knew that many LGBTQIA+ people’s needs vastly differed from state-sanctioned marriage. Black people are still incarcerated and harassed by the police on a routine basis, and undocumented immigrants are unjustly held in deportation facilities; many of who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
The words of trans South Asian activist, poet duo Dark Matter resonate in light of the attack in Jerusalem and the U.S. Supreme Court decision: “LGBT rights have ceased to be about LGBT people ourselves. They have become about political dominance—tools that powerful people, institutions and whole nations use as a false marker of progressivism.”
The attack in Jerusalem should be condemned, because homophobia, especially when enacted via violence, is unacceptable. However, the Israeli response to it is emblematic of a legacy of pinkwashing and needs considerable critique; narratives of progress are too often deployed to conceal structural violence.
Instead, feminist and queer politics must take up the demands of Palestinian LGBTQIA+ community. Organisations such as Aswat, Kayan, Al-Qaws, Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (PQBDS) have already been doing the groundwork to expand the horizons of queer politics, transforming it into a project against racism, capitalism, and colonialism, too. Let us heed their calls to action, work for Palestinian sovereignty, and push our home governments to support the ongoing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israeli settler colonialism.