If I Am Only for Myself: Why #CancelPinkwashing?

This is the companion to my previous post. There, I focused on my experiences of the protest, and explaining the concepts behind it (e.g. “What is pinkwashing?”). This time, I address why I was motivated to participate, why I don’t think groups that engage even in relatively mild forms of pinkwashing belong in the programming of social justice conferences, why I’m okay with measures that many liberal Jews consider a bridge too far like BDS or a protest of a reception.

I’ve seen comments from a few people that amount to “Ugh, why did you have to bring this debate into the conference?” and really, I would rather not have. This was my fourth Creating Change, and I go because I value the learning opportunity, the chance to be in a huge queer-normative space. Which I still got – the debate and protest around pinkwashing is only one thing that happened at a several-day coference – but I’m a relatively conflict-averse person by temperament and infighting in my communities makes me sad. So why, then, did I participate? I participated because once the presence of the reception had introduced the issue, I felt morally compelled, and here’s some of the reasons why:

I participated for Balata Refugee Camp, and for the cultural center staffer there who broke down and cried when talking about the traumatized, violently-acting-out, and suicidal children that he works with. I already wrote a long post about Balata and would love for anyone reading

Three colored strings of beads, with the colors making a Palestinian flag, hang from a metal figure of a butterfly.

My Palestine bead flag pendant from Balata Refugee Camp.

this post to please read that one too. Balata’s cultural center has a shop for internationals to buy crafts from, to support impoverished widows and children. During the march at Creating Change, instead of a sign or a #CancelPinkwashing sticker, I wore a pendant that I bought from Balata’s cultural center shop, with strings of beads that form a Palestinian flag. I used that pendant, during the protest, to remind myself that this was about more than the social dynamics of a conference.

I participated for Palestinian LGBTQ+ group alQaws, which supports and organizes LGBTQ+ Palestinians throughout Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza (and which used to be part of Jerusalem Open House, the organization that was to speak at A Wider Bridge’s reception – the relationship between the two groups is detailed here). And for Aswat, the group for queer Palestinian women living in Israel, which was denied by Jewish LGBTQ+ groups a chance to speak at the pro-LGBTQ+ demonstration after the mass shooting attack on a Tel Aviv LGBTQ+ center in 2009. Both alQaws and Aswat signed onto the coalition statement against A Wider Bridge’s reception being held at Creating Change.

Camera view a few inches from a fence, looking through to a slightly blurry view of metal bars, fencing, and barbed wire, with the figure of a soldier walking through a metal archway.

Israeli soldier viewed through barriers inside a military checkpoint near Qalqiliya in the West Bank.

While I’m on that point, I participated for the LGBTQ+ Palestinians who live in areas that were long part of the Jerusalem metro area, who when the Separation wall was built suddenly lost the ability to access Jerusalem Open House’s LGBTQ+ on-site community services without permits to let them cross the Wall and undergoing the exteme fear, inconvenience, and uncertaintly that crossing the Wall brings. To approximate something the alQaws organizer that I talked to said to my delegation when we talked to her, there’s no pink door in the Wall for queer Palestinians.

I participated for the villages of Bil’in and Nabi Saleh, where I had the opportunity to attend weekly village protests against the Wall and the seizure of their land. They are two of many villages that have such weekly protests, and they can’t even have small nonviolent marches without being bombarded with tear

The camera faces a large cloud of tear gas, with a line of protesters visible on the other side, with desert hills in the background. A few protesters' backs are visible on the camera side of the cloud.

Facing off with soldiers through a cloud of tear gas in Nabi Saleh. One of my favorite photos that I took.

gas (and worse), from dozens of cannisters that could seriously injure or kill someone who was hit on the head. I wrote about them here and here and you should read those posts.

I participated for the Bedouins in Southern Israel, Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel, whose villages are being bulldozed so that Jewish

A middle-aged man with very short black hair and brown skin gestures to a solar panel in front of a ramshackle house.

Our guide in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Alsira, an attorney with Adalah (the “Israeli NAACP”), shows off one of the solar panels he was responsible for bringing to his village.

settlements can be built on top of them, and the Jewish National Fund can plant forests on top of the ruins, as part of the Zionist project.

I participated for the residents of the Saffafra neighborhood in the Israeli city of Nazareth – Palestinians who were, or whose parents or grandparents were, driven out of the nearby village of Saffuriya by bombing attacks, and can’t move back even though it’s the same country and only a few miles away, because it was expropriated to be a Jewish National Fund pine forest (don’t even get me started on the bullshit involved in planting pine forests that catch fire easily in the

A display of battered old clay, copper, and stone dishes, vases, and other objects, and colorful stretches of cloth.

Cultural artifacts from the destroyed Palestinian village of Saffuriya, collected by 1948 bombing survivor Abu Arab.

middle of the desert – I even saw one of these forest fires from our bus at one point – because pine trees grow quickly and you want to cover up the land that you took from Palestinians with something else as quickly as you can) and a Jewish moshav (cooperative community).

I participated because on my delegation that took me to the region, one of our tour coordinators was a Palestinian from the West Bank who had recently graduated from college in the US, and for the first time, she saw what was left of Lifta, the Palestinian village at the

A young woman with brown skin, curly black hair, jeans, and a t-shirt, gazes at the wall inside an old stone room, while two other people look from behind her.

One of my delegation’s tour coordinators looks at a wall in her family’s old village which they fled in fear of Zionist paramilitary groups in 1948, now a nature reserve, which she is visiting for the first time.

edge of West Jerusalem that her family was driven from in 1948 along with the rest of the villagers after a massacre at the village coffeehouse by the Lehi and other attacks by the Lehi as well as fellow Zionist militias the Irgun and the Haganah. Lifta has now been turned into a nature reserve by the Israeli government, the old spring into a place where ultra-Orthodox boys go to swim. If I wanted to visit the places in Europe and Turkey from which my Jewish ancestors fled violence or other disaster, or the place in Europe from which my Roma ancestors were expelled, my only barriers would be time and money, but my Palestinian tour coordinator had never had that chance because it was only the second time in her life that she’d been able to get the necessary permits to be allowed into Israel. She walked through the remnants of the place from which their still-living ancestors were forced to flee, allowed to see and touch it for the first time.

I participated for the mixed-ethnic Israeli city of Lod (or Lydda). Lydda’s pre-1948 Palestinian inhabitants were expelled, hundreds massacred, survivors robbed of their possessions, sent on what became known as the Lydda Death March. Today, Lod is a city where marginalized and often poor Palestinian-Israelis live with marginalize and often poor Sephardi-Mizrahi (Middle Eastern/North African), Ethiopian, and first-gen Russian immigrant Jews, in a struggling environment. Where, as described by my guide, a lifelong resident of the city, kids in the poor, mostly-Palestinian-Israeli

A few pieces of cloth stretched over a wooden frame to make a shanty for one person, with a stone wall to the left and a garbage pile behind it.

Shanty next to a garbage pile in the mixed city of Lod.

Rakevet neighborhood used to be regularly killed by trains – there are so many train tracks through there, and the trains so frequent, that some roads average one train crossing every few minutes at some times of day – because there weren’t signals to warn the walking kids that the trains were coming, until years of hard work by local activists finally convince that the problem needed addressing. Where a ten year-old tried to sell drugs to our driver and homeless people were living in boxes next to a dump.

I participated for the people of Aida refugee camp, where, when I visited, the primary school area of the camp, which is right up against the Wall, was being tear gassed multiple times per week (including while I was touring the camp), and IDF soldiers stood outside people’s doors at night. Where there are large numbers of disabled children and their parents struggle to provide for them because there are very few resources for disabled people in the refugee camps.

I participated for Tali Shapiro, a queer Israeli Jewish woman who I met and chatted with at a weekly village protest in Nabi Saleh in June 2014. In March 2015, at another weekly village protest in Nabi Saleh, she was (content note: images of military violence and injuries) beaten and arrested by Israeli military forces. Just as there’s no pink door for queer Palestinians, there’s no pink shield or handcuff key for queer Israeli Jews who want support freedom for Palestinians.

I participated because when I was in Ramallah I had the opportunity to observe a day-long conference on treating survivors of torture (Israeli torture, Palestinian torture, and any other source) and there were professionals, presenters, who couldn’t get to the conference because the IDF’s Operation Brother’s Keeper had restricted their movement too severely.

I participated for the Palestinian shopkeepers in Hebron/Khalil whose stores have garbage, debris, and concrete chunks dropped on them from above, and whose shop doors are vandalized, by Israeli Jewish settlers. A Wider Bridge has no problem, apparently, with giving someone who lived in a Hebron-area settlement to attend a radical religious hesder (combining religious studies with Israeli military service) Zionist yeshiva, who happens to be gay, a platform on their website (and yes, I realize that they give

A deserted, very narrow, marketplace street, with stone shops. Some of their doors are vandalized and a net across the street between the roofs is straining from the chunks of debris in it.

Nets full of settler-thrown debris in the Palestinian marketplace of the old city of Hebron/Al-Khalil, which is deserted in anticipation of confrontation with Israeli soldiers.

anti-Occupation folks platforms on their website too, but an willingness to subordinate concern about gross ongoing human rights violations, to the gay self-discovery story of someone willingly participating in those human rights violations by being part of the settler movement, is an interesting illustration of what people are concerned about when they are concerned about Israel advocacy through an LGBTQ+ lens).

I participated because Israel, which portrays itself as an LGBTQ+ haven and makes much of supposedly being a lone liberal democracy in the Middle East, eavesdrops on Palestinians in order to gather information about their private lives, and uses queerness as one of many possible hooks (others include financial problems, drug use, and the need for major medical care that can’t easily be accessed because of the restrictions that Israel places on Palestinian movement) to blackmail Palestinians into collaboration with the Israeli government, which not only harms those individual Palestinians, but creates a public image that queer Palestinians (as well as Palestinians in the various other targeted categories) are likely to be collaborators. You should read alQaws’ statement on this story for important notes on framing and contextualization – I have tried to be mindful of their words in writing this paragraph, but it is entirely possible that I have screwed up.

I participated because, if you apply the Williams Institute figure of 3.8% of the US population being LGBTQ+ to the Palestinian-American population, that’s over 3200 LGBTQ+ Palestinian-Americans, who ought to be welcome at Creating Change. It sends a decidedly unwelcoming message to them when Creating Change has a sanctioned event by a group that supported Israel’s bombing of Gaza to the point of being willing to co-sponsor a protest in favor of it and push people to attend it (and seriously, how is that alone not serious enough for progressives to object to its presence at a social justice conference?).

You may notice that I brought up a lot here that takes place on Israel’s side of the Green Line, or both sides, rather than sticking only to what happens in the Occupied Territories. That’s because sometimes I hear that while what is happening in the West Bank or Gaza is terrible and Israel should stop that, things are just fine inside Israel (and that things are great for LGBTQ Palestinians inside Israel) so I should be nicer to it. Ending the Occupation is vital work, but the problems go beyond that (just as, say, racial justice problems in the US go beyond the legacy of Jim Crow laws, even though ending those was very important).

I’m not saying that if you didn’t, or wouldn’t, participate in the protest, you don’t care about these things. I’m saying that I had them in mind when I participated, and that I have them in mind when I do things like support BDS (which came up over and over when I was in the region, and is supported by a wide range of groups in Palestine ranging from unions to children’s theater programs to Palestinian LGBTQ+ groups to YMCAs). I thought it was wrong for Creating Change to have an event run by A Wider Bridge, an organization that doesn’t seem to care what kind of terrible things it supports (bombing the crap out of Gaza), or what kind of dubious groups it works with (StandWithUs, the Israeli consulate), or what kind of dubious activities it gives a glowing public platform to (settlements, hasbara), as long as it can link LGBTQ+ issues, LGBTQ+ people, and Israel (which, like the US or other powerful countries, is a state whose policies should be roundly criticized, not an informal group of people, many of whom are perfectly nice and well-meaning), together in the public eye to get people to feel positive feelings toward the Israeli state.

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