The Golden Handcuffs of Gay Rights: How Pinkwashing Distorts both LGBTIQ and Anti-Occupation Activism

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The Golden Handcuffs of Gay Rights: How Pinkwashing Distorts both LGBTIQ and Anti-Occupation Activism

Israeli democracy, through its promotion of LGBT rights, offers golden handcuffs—a beautiful gift that comes with control—to Israeli queers. At a lecture in Tel Aviv at the Women’s Peace Coalition, I heard the strain in the voices of queer Israeli activists who are chafing under Israeli’s progressive gay rights record.  One activist stated: “Apparently we have won all our rights and it’s like we should be grateful and keep silent about the injustices of the Occupation. LGBT rights in Israel are conditional rights; we cannot openly support the BDS movement without legal repercussions.” (See for example, The Jerusalem Post article on the “Boycott Bill”.) That’s right, progressive Israeli queer organizing has now been criminalized, if it in any way supports the BDS movement. How is that for irony? These activists also report that trans and gender-non-confirming queers were not welcome in this new version of the proper “homonationalist” Israeli citizen. Sexual “liberation” for the privileged few comes in exchange for limits on political freedom for all.

More specifically in terms of Palestinian queers, the LGBT rights project itself relies on the impossibility/absence/non-recognition of a proper Palestinian queer subject except within the purview of the Israeli state itself. As a lawyer at the Palestinian human rights organization Adalah explained to us, LGBT laws in Israel are liberal because it is considered an “internal” affair. Yet the ironies proliferate. On January 11th, on the same day as Tel Aviv’s dubious honor as the “world’s best gay city” was announced, an amendment to Israel’s citizenship laws that prohibits the unification of West Bank Palestinians with their spouses in Israel was upheld by the High Court of Justice.  Add to this the passage of “social suitability” laws, and the attempted regulation of sexual activities between foreign laborers and Israeli Jews, and it becomes patently clear that LGBT liberation also works to distract attention from intense forms of (hetero)sexual regulation, regulation that seeks to constrict the sexual and familial activities of all bodies not deemed suitable for the Israeli body politic.

Golden handcuffs limit the resistance of gay Israeli citizens benefiting the most directly from legal and cultural forms of sexual freedom; the trade off of freedom for suppression is even more complex for Palestinians living in Israel. But what of the queer Palestinians living under Occupation? If Israel is so convinced of the grandeur of gay Tel Aviv, perhaps it should make it possible