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Pinkwashing; Justification Of Oppression And Apartheid

image: Tony Webster/ Wikimedia

The compound term “pinkwashing” has its origins in the seventeenth-century verb “whitewash”, which means to deliberately conceal crimes or unpleasant acts through the biased representation of facts or reports. In Nazi concentration camps, gay male inmates were forced to wear inverted pink triangles to shame them for their supposed “inverted gender”. 

Following this, within the ACT-UP LGBTQ+ movement, the pink triangle became a symbol of political resistance to homophobia and the people living with AIDS or HIV. In the 1980s, the pink ribbon logo became a motif that companies used to show their purported support for victims of breast cancer. 

These logos became the standard for selling merchandise and products. Later, in a classic case of misguided advertising, it was revealed through research that many of the products sold by these companies contained carcinogenic substances that increased the risk of cancer among people. 

In 1985, the organization Breast Cancer Action coined the term “pinkwashing” to deceptive practices that were used to falsely market certain products and even ideas. The “Think Before You Pink '' a feminist protest campaign proceeded to spread awareness against the misleading practices outfitted by these companies to profit off of people’s plight.

When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the term refers to Israel’s dishonest abuse of power and its justification of apartheid while fallaciously appealing to LGBTQ+ rights. As deceptive as it may be, the supposed support of Israel towards the LGBTQ+ community is inherently homophobic as well as Islamophobic. 

It has been a routine practice to appeal to the sentiments of the queer community while concurrently oppressing the Palestinians. As Palestinian queer rights organization Al Qaws puts it, “Pinkwashing is the symptom, settler colonialism is the root sickness' '. The way Israel is weaponizing the LGBTQ+ community while ethnically cleansing a population cannot be deemed as real acceptance.

Pinkwashing further concretizes the orientalist mindset of Zionism. It relies on the understanding that the East remains stubbornly backward and conservative and that the West and its learnings are an obvious solution to that. 

The routine demonization of Arab people, in this case the Palestinians, wilfully ignores the existence of queer Muslim people and their allies. This also disregards the role religious fundamentalism among Christians, Jews, or even the Roman Catholic Church has played in perpetuating fear and hatred for gay people. 

This hypocritical ideology has fueled the ongoing conflict and has helped Israel gain support worldwide.

The Middle East was associated with ‘effeminacy’ or even ‘sexual deviancy’, something that the West needed to guard itself against. In the process of the nation-building of modern-day Iran, Turkey, and other Arab states, heterosexual norms were adopted to live up to the standards of the West and not make an enemy out of them. The heteronormativity that the West is associated with is something that the Arab states sought to emulate to enter into the world of progressive modernity.

This is not to say that homophobia does not exist or function in the Middle East or that the West is to be blamed completely. The ideas of sexuality we have today are modern and adhere to the notions emerging from modern nation-building and are accompanied by the ‘othering’ of communities leading to exploitation and discrimination. 

Between the binaries of the West and East, Muslim queer culture is rendered invisible. The narratives found currently that Muslims are ‘hypersexual’ and ‘sexually repressed’ at the same time are informing the dehumanization and oppression of these people. The state of Israel therefore has to go beyond these contradictions and appease both the fundamentalist homophobic supporters while also serving as a haven for the LGBTQ+ Community.

These efforts are better understood through the lens of “homonationalism”. Jasbir K. Puar in her work Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times used the term ‘homonationalism’ to describe how certain queer constituencies are embracing or giving into nationalist agendas to fight the endemic war on terror. 

They openly subscribe to ethnic chauvinism, toxic masculinity, religious dogmatism, and Islamophobia, which are crucial to fighting the war on terror. Homonationalism thus aimed to highlight the mobilization of gay rights against Muslims and the racialized ‘others’ in the framework of American Nationalism. Puar’s work focuses on how certain Western queer movements have themselves supported willingly or not, this racialized dehumanizing structure.


In the year 2005, with assistance from American marketing executives, the Israeli government started a campaign with the moniker “Brand Israel”. This campaign sought to function as a PR agent of the government marketing it as ‘relevant’ and ‘modern’. It also helps the government in promoting the state as an international destination for queer vacations. 

The tourism ministry also oversees the screening of pro-Israel movies at lesbian and gay film festivals in the United States. Brand Israel further aims at concretizing the position of Palestine as regressive, providing them with a leeway to legitimize violence inflicted on them. Israel’s aggressive social media campaign repeatedly tries to establish the narrative that Palestinians are not deserving of their land because they are not progressive and allegedly persecute the LGBTQ+ community.

A picture of an IDF soldier holding a pride flag with written “love wins all” has emerged on social media in the last few months. The soldier is seen standing amidst the rubble and destruction that the war has left in its wake. Encountering images like this, at a time when there are reports of Palestinian people – whether queer or not – being killed in their homeland every minute of the day, is jarring, to say the least.

The collective human community needs to keep its conscience in check and not separate the Palestinian resistance from LGBTQ+ movements around the globe.


Being queer does not save Palestinians from being persecuted, brutalized, and bombed. The oppression faced by Palestinians is multi-faceted, as is the case anywhere in the world with subjugated communities. It is important to address the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and above all our humanity in our conversations regarding Palestinian liberation and help in Israel accounting for its acts of genocide

Edited By: Avanie Hiranandani

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