Pinkwashing and the Mind

Sometimes, a writer publishes a piece that manages to cut through the immense amount of clutter that passes for discussion and debate on the Middle East, providing insights that lead to instant (and deserved) virality.

Matti Friedman’s 2014 story that provided an insider’s explanation for so much journalistic malpractice when it comes to coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one such story, as is the piece I mentioned last time, Pinkwashing and Traitors to the Human Mind by writer and film maker Jamie Palmer.

Anyone who knows anything already understands that term as an attempt to turn an Israeli virtue (its open-mindedness with regard to homosexual rights) into a vice by declaring that any mention of Israel’s open society should be treated with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

This transparent attempt to use invented language to put opponents on the defensive demonstrates – yet again – the sheer cynicism and hypocrisy of those who demand their anti-Israel agenda become synonymous with progressive thought.  But Palmer’s piece looks beyond these obvious points to analyze what those who scream “Pinkwasher!” are doing to their own minds.

The issue I raised last time of whether BDSers are naturally or artificially stupid is really not that much of an open question.  After all, the embrace of the academic boycotts by a not-insignificant number of PhDs seems to indicate that within academia the “movement” is being embraced by people with at least enough brains to reach the top of the academic food chain.

So it is not natural stupidity that causes such people to ignore and shout down mention of something as obvious as the gap between Israel and her enemies with regard to gay rights.  Rather, it is self-imposed ignorance that derives from identifying with a nation not your own.

In this case, Palmer is using “nation” as Orwell did in his 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism which talks about people whose primary self-identity is extra-national vs. tied to the concrete nation or community into which they were born.

Historically, these national (really supra-national) identities were religious.  Until modern times, for example, people living in different European countries saw themselves as all members of Christendom, just as many Muslims see the Muslim community or Umma as an identity that transcends all others. During the bloody 20th century, those religious identities were replaced by political ones, such as Fascism and Communism which became homes to millions regardless of other ties they might have to particular countries, communities or faiths.

Now not all trans-nationalities need to be violent or committed to world domination.  Passivism, for example, is an ideology that crosses borders without asking those borders to be broken down and placed under the imperial rule of the Pacifist.  But, more often than not, an embrace of a cross-cutting ideology (even an innocuous one such as Passivism) requires turning a blind eye to substantial amounts of blinding reality.

While apologists for Fascism seem to have shut their mouths after the Holocaust and crushing defeat of Nazi Germany, those who sing the praises of Marxism to this day cannot bring themselves to see (much less accept) that monstrous crimes committed in the name of that ideology.  At best, they will relegate the millions of deaths attributable to Communist regimes and movements to perversions committed by faux-Communists, with “real” Communism still being something that’s “never been tried.”

While this level of moral blindness is truly horrific, at least in the case of ideological trans-nationalism willful ignorance is being put to use towards a perceived productive end: the creation of a new world based on the preferred ideology.  But in the case of the Palestine uber alles brigade, the subject of veneration is not a belief system but a people.

After all, the charge of “pinkwashing” was not concocted in order to pursue a political agenda that would lead to the creation of a new and perfect society (even one based solely on fantasy).  Rather, it was created to place discussion of the dark side of one set of people (Palestinians) beyond discussion.  Their role as perfect victims much be maintained at all cost.  And if gay rights (like women’s rights and human rights in general) must be thrown overboard in order to maintain this fiction, that’s a price the BDSers are ready to make the world pay.

I could go on about the assault on one’s own reasoning faculties required to hold in your head all the contradictions inherent in the championing of the “pinkwashing” accusation but, like last time, I’m going to leave it to you to read Palmer’s original piece to appreciate the power of the author’s insights.

But as you read it, consider for a moment how a people who have embraced a particularist identity (Zionism) have managed to avoid the self-imposed ignorance, moral blindness and sheer wickedness unleashed by on the planet by those who believe they have transcended such particularism to become “citizens of the world.”

How Pinkwashing Makes You Dumb

It continues to be an open question whether stupid people gravitate towards joining the BDS “movement” vs. participating in BDS itself lowering one’s iQ.

One of the things that makes this a tough call is that participating in BDS and associated propaganda activity requires you to believe so many demonstrably false things (Jenin, Jenin, anyone), and to push any facts and arguments that contradict a narrow set of beliefs out of your own head before shouting those who speak such truths off the stage.

With the emergence of the “pinkwashing” issue, however, I think we might have adequate evidence to support the self-stupification thesis.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “pinkwashing” is a fake phenomenon baked up by BDS propagandists to help them deal with the fact that Israel is the most enlightened state on earth with regard to gay rights while Palestinian society, like the rest of the Arab world, represents the place on the planet where murderous homophobia is sanctioned by both religion and law.

As one commentator described it, this fact is so true the boycotters can’t stand it.  And so they have concocted a fantasy that Israel’s gay freedoms, or more specifically any attempt to portray the truth about those freedoms, is part of a nefarious plot to obscure Zionist wickedness.

Any normal critic of Israel would simply make the reasonable claim that, yes, Israel is an enlightened society with regard to gay rights (as well as women’s rights, religious freedom, etc.), but that this does not excuse them from criticism on other matters (such as treatment of Palestinians and approach to the peace process).  But, as all of us know, BDS is not in the “normal” business.  So rather than make any claim that acknowledges Israel as something other than absolute evil, the boycotters instead add that enlightenment to their bill of indictment.

This came to a head a couple of weeks back when pro-Palestinian activists tried to get their Israeli counterparts ejected from a gay unity event and, failing to do so, stormed their opponents’ event howling accusations of “pinkwashing” alongside the usual genocidal chant “from the river to the sea.”

One response to that attack came from Jay Michaelson, writing for The Forward.  A few years back, I dedicated a two-parter to Jay Michaelson’s Journey, looking at (I hope with empathy) how this gay, left-leaning writer and political activist was dealing with being stuck between anti-Israel propagandists who insisted that he must do what they say or be a traitor to all he believes and “right wingers” he instinctively loathes.  This corundum is what made his 2012 piece “When the Right is Right About the Left” shocking to some, and interesting for those of us who refuse to be badgered into one end of the political spectrum vs. another.

But with his recent piece on “pinkwashing,” Jay seems to have gone off the deep end.  More specifically, his construct of “even handedness” (which boils down to “Watch me while I ding both Left and Right again!”) has forced an intelligent and sensitive person to say remarkably stupid and ridiculous things.

Most notably is his claim that those who criticize gay pro-Palestinian activists by saying (usually on Internet comment sections) that they should try holding a Gay Pride parade in Gaza are actually saying they want to see those activists murdered.

Where to begin?

First, even the Internet contains intelligent and thoughtful commentary on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, and “pinkwashing” in particular (one particularly remarkable piece I’ll get to shortly).  Which makes characterizing opponents based on anonymous comments on Web postings highly uncharitable, if not an outright attempt to avoid genuine debate.

Second, does Michaelson really think that someone who says “Let them hold a Gay Pride parade in Gaza/The West Bank/Tehran” (or something along those lines) is speaking literally vs. making a hypothetical – if hyperbolic – statement in order to point out what they perceive to be a form of hypocrisy?

If so, then we’re back to that dumbification thesis that started this piece, or at least a demonstration of how the atrophying of genuine argumentation about Middle East issues has impacted even intelligent people like Michaelson.  If not, then claiming your critics are calling for your murder is simply another way to avoid a genuine argument, much like the term “pinkwashing” was concocted to put opponents with a stronger case on the defensive.

Finally, look how Michaelson’s argument acknowledges critics’ main thesis: that Gaza et al are places where the murder of homosexuals is guaranteed.  And even if you make the further case (as Michaelson does) that suffering people one fights for do not need to be saints, he still needs to acknowledge that victory for the “river to the sea” brigade would mean an expansion of the territory where gay murder is sanctioned and explain why this is a price worth paying for a “Free Palestine.”

In trying to find a better explanation of what makes so many smart people say dumbass things like this, I stumbled on this remarkably intelligent piece that looks at the “pinkwashing” furor through the intellectual lens of nationalism (really supra-nationalism), that is, someone whose primary allegiance is to an entity or movement other than the one into which he or she was born.

That article is so spot on that I am going to shut up now and let you read it in its entirety.  And once the snow blows over, I’ll be back to discuss the broader implications of the author’s thesis.



BDS Washes Up

BDS advocates seem to have recently become obsessed with hygiene, or more specifically what they perceive to be the nefarious washing practices of their political opponents.

Most of you are probably aware of the “Pinkwashing” phenomenon.  This arose out of the need for anti-Israel activists, who perceive themselves as not just progressive but the focal point around which all progressive thought must rotate, to get out of a jam.

You see, in their fight to see Israel discredited, de-legitimized and dismantled, the BDSers are allied (some formally, some informally) with the most brutish and homophobic regimes on the face of the earth.  Certainly gays and lesbians have their struggles here in the US and elsewhere in the West, but they do not have to deal with persecution, prosecution and murder as religiously sanctioned state policy as they do in the Middle East.

Simply put, homicidal homophobia is the law of the land in every Middle East country (save Israel), including those paradises on earth being created in Gaza and the West Bank under the leadership of the BDSers beloved Palestinians.  And the fact that Israel is the most welcoming society in the world with regard to gays and lesbians provides an especially tough problem for a BDS cause that readily allies itself with regimes and organizations that practice such sexual Apartheid.

The contrast between Israel and its foes with regard to gay rights is just too huge for BDSers to deal with through their usual tactic of refusing to acknowledge questions they know they cannot answer.  And so they have taken a different approach to get off the defensive, creating a fake phenomenon called “Pinkwashing” which insists that any mention of the contrast between Israel’s progressive values with regard to gay and lesbian issues and the deplorable condition of gays everywhere else in the Middle East is actually a wicked plot by Israel’s apologists to take the spotlight off the only thing the boycotters ever want to talk about: Israel’s guilt (for everything).

Based on the premise that the best defense is a good offense, the BDS brigade has actually prioritized “Pinkwashing” in their list of accusations and chants, hoping to drown out reality in a flurry of finger-pointing in order to make Israel’s defenders feel uncomfortable bringing up the otherwise unchallengable point that those who hate Israel also seem to hate homosexuals (and don’t have much time for women to boot).  And fortunately for the boycotters, the catchy term “Pinkwashing” came ready-made for them since it first originated years ago within the breast cancer activist community as a term to describe corporations that try to cover up practices that could lead to breast cancer with high-profile charitable activities targeted at breast cancer research.

But when the BDS cru tried to extend this effort and come up with their own catchy phrase, rhetorical disaster inevitably struck.  Thus was born the term “Assadwashing,” which means (as you might guess) pointing out more Arabs have been killed in the last few months in Syria (to the near silence of the BDSers) than have been killed in decades of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians is just one more example of Israel sinisterly trying to change the subject.

Again, the murderous repression going on in Syria is just too well known and widespread for the boycotters to completely ignore it, especially when it demonstrates that their pretense of representing human rights is just as false as claims to represent progressive values.  But if they can make the issue “Assadwashing,” and not Assad (and his victims), then they hope to get the conversation back to where they want it: a debate over Israel’s punishment, with guilt assumed and the BDSers playing the role of prosecutor, judge and jury.

Unfortunately for them, “Assadwashing” is so clumsy a term that it just highlights its creators and users hypocrisy and clownishness.  For if you step back for a moment, it becomes immediately apparent that accusations that Israel uses the suffering of others to deflect from their own crimes is actually one more projection of the faults of Israel’s foes onto the Jewish state.

Are women and minorities really repressed by the millions in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, or is this just an example of AhmadinejadWashing or FaudWashing?  Do the Palestinian Authority and Hamas really run corrupt repressive states that breastfeed the children under their control a steady diet of murderous hatred, making peace all but impossible, or is this just more Israeli “WestBankandGazaWashing?”  Has political and religious conflict led to over a million dead in the Middle East over the last fifty years (with no involvement of Israel), or is this an example of “DeadArabsWeDon’tWantToTalkAboutWashing?”  You get the picture.

What ends up getting lost in these politically motivated verbal games are the thousands of gays and lesbians, the hundreds of thousands of persecuted minorities, the millions of women who fall victims to the tyranny and fanaticism that is the real cause of all conflict in the region (including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).  And what respectable BDSers would want them to intrude on their conversation?

PennBDS: Pinkwashing

This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference.  Check out this landing page to find out more.

BDS advocates, including nearly everyone who will be on stage and in the audience at the upcoming PennBDS conference, share a problem.

For the overwhelming audience (and target list) for the BDS project are progressive institutions (such as colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, municipalities and unions with a history of speaking up for human rights), which is why the BDS argument is cast entirely in the vocabulary of progressive politics.

But these same institutions have evolved over the years to place issues regarding gay rights high on their agendas.  Yes, churches are still hotly debating issues such as gay marriage and gay clergy, and you’ll occasionally hear about some nasty bit of gay bashing at some school out there.  But on the whole, the right of homosexuals to feel welcomed, thrive and live free from ridicule and harm takes high priority within the very institutions anti-Israel boycotters are trying to reach.

The problem arises (for BDSers, anyway) when you take a look at the target of their attacks (Israel) which by any standard is the most open society in the Middle East (if not the world) with regard to gay rights (with gay marriage legal, gays welcomes into the military, and a thriving gay culture).  In contrast, the societies that are allied with the BDS project (including the Palestinians and the Arab states that support them) are the last remaining bastion of state-sponsored anti-gay repression and violence, places where the existence of homosexuality is denied, and its practitioners punished by imprisonment and violent death.

Whenever a comparison like this rears its head, the first instinct of the boycotters is to ignore it and, if that fails, to befog the air by leveraging ambiguity.  For example, the contrast between Israeli’s thriving democracy and the anti-democratic nature of Israel’s foes can be dealt with by defining “democracy” solely in terms of public votes in the case of the Palestinians (which allows them to claim Hamas is a “democratically elected” government, ignoring the coups, repression and end to voting since Hamas won one election years ago).  In contrast, their analysis of Israel democracy consists solely of finding and harping on flaws or partisan excesses which they use to question the democractic credentials of the Jewish state as a whole.

But the gap between Israel’s tolerance for gay rights and its foes’ repression and hatred of homosexuality and its practitioners is just too great for these techniques to work.  Or, as a fellow blogger once put it, Israel’s progressive credentials with this regard this issue is “so true they [the BDSers] can’t stand it.”  And so, to avoid the subject, they have done something rather clever (rhetorically speaking, anyway) by inventing a fake phenomena called “Pinkwashing” and insisting that any debate of gay rights in the Middle East be about that.

I say “invent,” but in fact the BDS cru swiped this term from political advocates dealing with breast cancer, advocates who claim that certain companies “pinkwash” negative practices by investing in breast-cancer related research and education projects and using those investments to market themselves as virtuous.

In the case of BDS, the “Pinkwashing” accusation claims that any mention of the yawning chasm between Israel’s positive record on gay rights and the appalling condition of gays elsewhere in the Middle East is not really about concern over gay individuals, but is actually part of a nefarious propaganda plot by Israel supporters who just want to score points and don’t really give a fig about actual gays people or genuine gay issues.

Ignored in this faux controversy over a manufactured term is that regardless of whether or not the gay issue might be manipulated cynically by some of Israel’s defenders (a dubious proposition, at least when applied universally), there is no question regarding the truth of Israel’s superior record on this issue of importance to progressively minded audiences.

Now if BDS was a “normal” political movement, it would simply accept Israel’s obvious superiority on this one matter but argue that the Jewish state’s tolerance for gays and lesbians shouldn’t give the country a free pass on every other matter (a very reasonable point).

But when you are pushing the message that Israel is an “Apartheid state,” with the implication that it is the worst human rights abuser on the planet (or at least the only one worthy of getting the BDS treatment), then any acknowledgement of the country’s progressive credentials can never be uttered.    And thus the debate must be about “Pinkwashing” and nothing else.


A recent posting talked about some of the technical reasons BDS seems to continue as a campaign, despite its inability to actually win any battles. And there are benefits of BDS as a tactic (its simplicity, a wealth of potential targets – including any institution that holds a single share of Caterpillar or Motorola stock, etc.), at least with regard to “movement building.”

But there is one element of the BDS mindset, indeed the anti-Israel mindset generally, that provides its practitioners a significant amount of rhetorical power in any argument, protest or debate: their ability to ignore every inconvenient fact that gets in the way of their own narrative.

How many times at a rally or debate have we seen these “Friends of Palestine” confronted with questions about rocket and bombing attacks on Israeli civilians, about the killing of Palestinians by each other or by Arab leaders (like Assad of Syria), or about the abuse of women, gays and minorities in Muslim lands, only to watch them deal with such criticism by:

1. Ignoring it completely

2. When that fails, rolling their eyes and issuing a scoffing laugh while spinning on their heels and walking away

3. And when that fails, pretending to agree “yes, the killing of Israeli civilians is completely unacceptable…” followed by the usual “big but” (as in “…BUT those missiles, kidnappings and bombings would never have occurred if not for the Occupation™).

Unlike the small child who simply blots out that which they don’t agree with or understand, the effort to ignore so much history, so many facts, so much bloodshed performed by their allies actually takes a great deal of creative effort on the part of the BDS brigade.

For example, take a look at the elaborate constructs surrounding the need to ignore peace deals offered to the Palestinians over the last ten years, nearly all of which would give them 99-100% of the land they claim to have craved since time immemorial. Now one could make the case that those peace deals did not include things the Palestinians hold more dearly than land (such as the so-called “Right of Return”). Or you could highlight the obvious political division within the Palestinian camp to point out the difficulty of cutting any deal. Both would expose the Palestinian position as not ready for reasonable negotiations towards peace, but at least they reflect something approaching reality.

But rather than go down this route, the boycotters instead create an elaborate fantasy world in which peace deals everyone knows about down to the last detail were never actually made. And their constructs include maps, essays, articles, speeches, curricula and all kinds of other materials that require a huge amount of effort to prove that white is black (similar to the fantasy literature around faux “massacres” such as Jenin).

My favorite example of this kind of creepy creativity has to do with gay rights. As a blogger friend once described, the difference between Israel (which give homosexuals more legal rights than almost any other country in the world) and the rest of the Middle East (where homosexuality is legally and religiously outlawed and its practitioners killed) is “so true they can’t stand it.”

But when the magnitude of this truth became too huge to ignore, they came up with a novel solution to this problem by inventing the non-existent phenomena of “pinkwashing.” This term (originated by breast-cancer advocates for more virtuous purposes, as it turns out) implies that anyone bringing up the issue of gay rights in the Middle East is doing so as part of a nefarious propaganda campaign designed to distract from the dark, evil that is Israel and “the Occupation.”

Now I understand that homosexual rights is a challenge for BDSers, given that their main target are progressives who care about issues such as gay marriage. And you can only ignore an elephant this large for so long. But rather than simply accept the fact that Israel is in a superior position on this issue (and make the reasonable claim that it does not mean they should be given a pass universally), instead the Israel haters rant and rave about “pinkwashing” (and now “greenwashing” – which declares Israel’s entire green technology revolution is also part of a propaganda war) so as to make the debate about these manufactured controversies, rather than the genuine underlying issue under discussion.

Naturally, the rights of actual gay human beings in the actual Middle East (like the plight of actual Palestinian human beings killed by actual Hamas members and Syrian soldiers) gets lost in all of these creative efforts to ignore what is inconvenient to the boycotters. And yet they still demand the moral high ground be granted to them immediately and unconditionally and never be questioned as to why.

Well ignore, and scoff, and eye-roll and spin all you like BDS dudes and dudettes. For the rest of us have taken your measure, and all we see is a bunch of immoral creeps.