The streets of Tel Aviv were adorned with rainbow flags alongside Israeli ones on 8 June as thousands of Israelis took to the streets for their 20th annual pride march.
To those unaware of the ethnic cleansing and genocide carried out by Israel on a daily basis for the past 70 years, the self-proclaimed “gay capital of the Middle East” would have appeared to represent a very tolerant and open society.
Palestinian LGBT+ activists, however, had called for a boycott of the parade, accusing Israel of pinkwashing — adopting an LGBT+ friendly facade as a way of covering up for its crimes against the Palestinians.
Under the 2005 Israeli government initiative, Brand Israel, efforts were made to promote Israel as a beacon for gay tourism. In response, Palestinian LGBT+ activists adopted the slogan “no pride in apartheid”, critiquing Israel’s “Pro-LGBT” stance as only applying to white Jews.
Speaking to Israelis on the march, this propaganda seems successful. When asked their opinions on the term pinkwashing, most didn’t see any connection between Israeli Pride and the situation in Palestine. “This is about love, we have dropped all politics for this parade, why can’t they?”
When asked whether their love extended to LGBT+ Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the response was “they can come, there is no problem”.
But Gaza has been under military blockade by Israel since 2008, and all but a few Palestinians living in the West Bank are denied visas to enter Israel, including for Pride.
Not all have bought into the propaganda. At the side of the march was a group of Israelis holding placards saying “end the occupation” in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Called “women in black”, it protests every week in the same spot and has connections with organisations internationally.
“Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 and perpetrated crimes against the Palestinians”, one woman said. She was aware of the term pinkwashing though most people on the parade were unaware, or tried to be, of the reality in Palestine. The reaction to the group’s protests ranges from ignorance to being spat on and sworn at to thumbs up. “We even have people ask us ‘what occupation?’”
Another protester said she believed “there was once a need for a Jewish state to escape oppression but the tragedy was that Israel displaced the people already there”.
The move to boycott Israeli Pride is a part of the wider Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to put international pressure on Israel to stop its colonialism, apartheid and genocide against the Palestinians.
Last year, Israel made around $40 million from the 3.5 million visitors to Pride. Removing this would be a significant blow to its economy and deprive the Israeli state of one of the few pieces of propaganda it has left.
Being against pinkwashing is about solidarity with Palestinians. Let’s be clear, there is no pride in apartheid.