Pinkwashing, greenwashing, redwashing and brownwashing are just some of the terms that have been coined to prop up what I like to call the washing libel. It’s a cohesive system through which anything and everything that portrays Israel in a positive light are painted either as a cynical attempt to obfuscate the inherent evil of Israeli Jewish society or worse.
The enemy that proponents of this family of libels work to fight against is the idea that the state of Israel is normal, and this campaign of denormalization can’t be carried out without double standards used to demonize and delegitimize Israel and the people living within it.
Israel is hardly alone on the world stage in using LGBTQ+ rights as part of the image of itself it wants to broadcast. Canada itself falls under this category. But no one attacks Canada’s public relations campaigns as part of a plot to cover up its history of residential schools, for example, nor should they.
The idea that LGBTQ+ rights in Israel exist for the sake of hiding some other form of oppression is patently false. There is no sinister conspiracy behind Pride parades being held in Tel Aviv. They would be taking place regardless of the existence of any conflict with the Palestinians. Attacking each and every positive thing that comes out of Israel, whether it be environmentalism, veganism or countless medical and technological advancements inverts reality by turning good into evil.
There’s one article published at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2007 that represents the washing libel taken to its farthest logical extreme. Put briefly, Tal Nitsan argued that IDF soldiers not raping Palestinian women constituted racist dehumanization, and that moral and ethical standards being upheld in the army were simply proof of chauvinist nationalism. It shouldn’t need to be said that, contrary to her words, “rape and non-rape” are not “two sides of the same coin,” but the underlying pathology is remarkable. In this upside-down world, any seemingly good thing that comes out of Israel is, in fact, sinister and evidence of an underlying evil.
If the sin of violating the framework that views Israel as the ultimate evil in the world makes anything that promotes Israel in a positive light taboo, anything that paints Israel’s enemies in a bad light is naturally seen as equally taboo solely because it doesn’t serve the agenda at hand. This willful blindness further hurts victims of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, whether they are Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or Israelis living outside of it.
AND IT’S the victims that are hurt the most when the internal sins of the other side are instrumentalized in order to win an argument in rhetorical debate. Shouting at someone about how they would be thrown off of a roof in Gaza doesn’t do LGBTQ+ Palestinians any good. It callously weaponizes the suffering they face and uses one facet of their identity to attack another.
The mirror image of this is found in claims of “brownwashing” or “Mizrahi-washing” by Israel. Presenting a Mizrahi image of Israel is cast as a plot to distract from Palestinian oppression and paper over social inequalities that do exist. But feigning concern for Mizrahi and Ethiopian Israelis in order to deny them the right to self-determination is washing par excellence. People on the internet insulting Yemenites for having their babies stolen or telling Ethiopian Israelis to enjoy their sterilization don’t come from a place of good faith.
Again, it’s not that there isn’t a real discussion to be had about various social issues in Palestinian society. Those conversations need to happen in a way that’s constructive and with the best interest of the human beings involved in mind. Claiming pinkwashing (or any of the other so-called “washings”) whenever anyone tries to have that discussion ironically serves to paint over some of the unfortunate realities of Palestinian society. Neither Israelis or Palestinians need to achieve social perfection as a prerequisite for self-determination, but contrary to what some anti-Zionists may think, anticipating the destruction of Israel as a magical and messianic event after which internal social issues can begin to be tackled is just as illegitimate of an idea.
The root of the issue is an attempt to import bigoted and destructive campaigns of denormalization that passed their prime decades ago into contemporary political discourse. But as loud as those voices may seem, they’ve already failed. Even this article errs on giving this campaign more light of day than it’s worth. Not only because there’s nothing that can be done to convince its proponents otherwise, but because Israel today is vibrant, prosperous, and thriving, and no weak effort conducted in bad faith can succeed in obscuring that reality.
The writer is a student at the University of Toronto and a Canadian campus media fellow with HonestReporting Canada.