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Homophobia and Israel/Palestine or, What’s political about “Queer?”: Some thoughts [5 July 5, 2010]

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Jasbir Puar, who wrote Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, has been writing for The Guardian’s“Comment is Free” column.  Her latest piece, “Israel’s gay propaganda war,” offers some interesting political analysis of claims made by Israel and many in the gay community, of Israel being a bastion of gay rights in an otherwise homophobic Middle East.

As Puar writes, “One of the most remarkable features of the Brand Israel campaign is the marketing of a modern Israel as a gay-friendly Israel.  Stand With US, a self-declared Zionist organisation, has been quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying: ‘We decided to improve Israel’s image through the gay community in Israel.’  This “pinkwashing”, as it is now commonly termed in activist circles, has currency beyond Israeli gay groups.  Within global gay and lesbian organising circuits, to be gay friendly is to be modern, cosmopolitan, developed, first-world, global north, and, most significantly, democratic.”

Puar continues: “Events such as WorldPride 2006 hosted in Jerusalem and “Out in Israel” recently held in San Francisco highlight Israel as a country committed to democratic ideals of freedom for all, including gays and lesbians.  Yet pinkwashing obscures the much more foundational, intractable and, by the terms of the Israeli constitution, necessary lack of freedom that Palestinians have in regards to Israeli state oppression.”

This bit is especially striking: “Pinkwashing harnesses global gays as a new source of affiliation, recruiting liberal gays into a dirty bargaining of their own safety against the continued oppression of Palestinians, now perforce rebranded as “gay unfriendly”.  This strategy then also works to elide the presence of numerous Palestinian gay and lesbian organisations, for example Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS).”

Puar’s piece is a great companion to Ryan Conrad’s recent post on Pride Toronto’s reversal of its policy of banning the term “Israeli apartheid.”  You can find the history of that controversy in Ryan’s earlier piece, “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid turning up the heat on Pride Toronto.”  And Alex Blaze’s post about Judith Butler turning down the Civil Courage Prize at Christopher Street Day in Berlin is also pertinent, because Butler’s action speaks to the impossibility of separating matters of sexual orientation and identity from politics.  For an added dimension on the controversies surrounding Israel, gay rights and Toronto Pride, see Jillian Weiss’s “Canadian Politics, Not Queer Politics, At Issue In Toronto Pride Parade.

I don’t usually write round-ups like this, but given the many conversations that have arisen here about Israel and gay rights in particular, and the connections between sexuality and politics in general, I thought it useful to point to Puar’s piece because it’s a reminder of the politics at stake.  And contextualizing her work within conversations that have been going on here (and encouraging people to read them as a set of related pieces) will, hopefully, allow for some considered reflections on the place of politics within matters of gay identity.


The idea that queer events/“pride” can somehow be separated from the political lives of queers is an impossible one.  We might have the luxury of imagining such a separation in the United States, where daily life is continuously de-politicized even as the geopolitical nightmare of neoliberalism grinds us down.  But queers in the rest of the world live their sexual lives as part of their political lives and vice versa - either because reality demands that they do so, or because the intellectual, cultural, and political contexts surrounding them will not permit an easy separation.  If we are to confront, challenge, and/or embrace a global world (inasmuch as we can put aside, temporarily, the problematics inherent in the concept of the global), we have to embrace the radical possibilities offered by other visions of sexuality, instead of being constrained by our own.

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