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April 12, 2012

The Persistency of “Pinkwashing” Allegations at Columbia University

Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality is the latest institution to jump on the “pinkwashing” bandwagon and claim that Israel’s promotion of its progressive record on LGBT rights is an attempt to divert attention from its alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. 

 On April 10, the Center – in conjunction with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) – held an event titled, “The Ethics of Pinkwashing: LGBT Rights in Israel/Palestine,” the second of two pinkwashing events at the university in less than a week.

On April 4, the Center had sponsored an event featuring three professors and professionals employed at the university who traveled on an LGBT delegation to the West Bank several months ago.The Center’s decision to single out Israel for criticism seems counter-intuitive given their shared commitments to promoting sexual equality rights. Indeed, this relatively new “anti-pinkwashing” campaign, which seeks to minimize Israel’s LGBT values and solely judge it within the context of the Israeli occupation, appears to be an attempt to discredit any and all positive aspects of Israeli society. 
The lead speaker at last week’s event, Katherine Franke (the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality), criticized Israel’s alleged exploitation of LGBT people, describing it as a “self-conscious” and insincere propaganda effort to divert attention from the occupation. Franke argued that “the one has nothing to with the other” and that Israel’s record on LGBT people should be kept distinct from the occupation. In fact, pro-Israel advocates completely agree, albeit from the opposite perspective: Israel has the right to be proud of and promote its LGBT record, which indeed has absolutely nothing to do with the occupation.

Franke also claimed that Israeli security organizations often pressure gay Palestinians to collaborate with the Israeli government in exchange for asylum or promises of safety. She then accused Israel of creating a situation where gay Palestinians are viewed with suspicion and are isolated by Palestinians because it is assumed that they are collaborators, rather than holding Palestinians accountable for their treatment of LGBT people.  

Franke’s co-panelist, Professor Kendall Thomas, claimed that the situation in the West Bank reminds him of the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the U.S. Thomas also asserted that Israel’s Jewish character and democracy are on a “collision course” and cannot be reconciled with each other.

Claims of Israeli pinkwashing gained mainstream attention after an op-ed on the subject was published in The New York Times in November. Pinkwashing-related events have since taken place during this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week program, and at several universities and other venues in recent weeks. 

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