Sarah Schulman’s Pinkwashing Washout Continues

In her first follow up to the Israeli pinkwashing controversy she ignited, Sarah Schulman follows up in the Huffington Post with a detailed history of the Jewish state’s PR “branding efforts.”

Her conclusions are no different than from her original NY Times piece. Schulman still insists:

The goal of pinkwashing is to justify Israel’s policies of occupation and separation by promoting the image of a lone oasis of progress surrounded by violent, homophobic Arabs, thereby denying the existence of queer Palestinian movements, or of secular, feminist, intellectual and queer Palestinians. By ignoring the multi-dimensionality of Palestinian society, the Israeli government is trying to claim supremacy that in their minds justifies the occupation. Yet nothing justifies the occupation.


Four thoughts on Schulman’s lengthy piece:

1. Every country markets itself.

Every country engages in nation-branding efforts. Boosting a country’s reputation with selling points is positive PR. The Nation Brands Index 2011 found the US to be the most admired country because people associate it with “innovation, opportunities and vibrancy.” India-branding wants to emphasize that “we’re not a country of snake charmers.” Technological prowess and pop culture are boosting South Korea’s popular image.

For years, the “Israel brand” was associated with religion (understandable) and occupation (unfortunate). In recent years, the image of Israel as a hi-tech “start up nation” has taken hold. The government decided to include gay freedom among the selling points.

2. Israel’s branding efforts are transparent.

The extensive detail of Schulman’s history indicates that the Israel’s nation-branding efforts are transparent. The Israeli media reported on branding issues over the years. The government isn’t hiding anything.

3. Gay rights and “the occupation” have nothing to do with each other.

As Lee Walzer wrote in a letter to the NY Times:

To label this as somehow sinister must mean that the United States is engaged in “jazzwashing” or “techwashing” when it uses music or touts its high-tech innovators to audiences and opinion makers overseas.

And another gay activist wrote to Jeffrey Goldberg:

Is she suggesting that a country shouldn’t be proud of its record of championing a progressive cause, or cite it as evidence of the enlightened nature of its politics?  And is she really unwilling to affirm those achievements?  Does she begrudge Israel any praise for establishing a haven for those rights in a region not widely recognized for its hospitality to minorities?

4. Is Schulman out of touch with the mainstream gay/lesbian community?

Besides being an influential writer in the gay/lesbian community, Schulman’s also a major figure in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (here’s one letter she signed, for example). So Schulman’s uniquely poised to muddy the waters this way. Gays and lesbians are entitled to their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I have a hard time believing that Schulman’s sentiments reflect the gay/lesbian mainstream.

Pinkwashing’s still a washout.

(Image of Schulman via Wikimedia Commons)


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