Over the last few years, the Israeli government has been running a marketing campaign, ‘Brand Israel’, with a particular eye on gay tourism. Although there is a financial incentive in attracting the ‘pink pound’ to Israel, the key element has been to present an alternative image of Israel . At London’s biggest outdoor party for the gay community on Saturday 7 July, this alternative image was described in Tel Aviv’s promotional literature as ‘fun, free, fabulous’.
World Pride, with a march through London and a rally in Trafalgar Square, provided an ideal target audience for an initiative to ‘pinkwash’ Israel. Surely the fun-loving crowd would be receptive to the idea of partying on the beach in Tel Aviv – particularly with two gay Israeli acts on the main stage in Trafalgar Square? But as Harel Skaat, Israel’s 2010 Eurovision entrant, came on stage, a sea of Palestinian flags sprang up in the audience and were waved high above the crowds throughout his performance and through some excruciatingly bad lip-syncing from the next act, 4 Drag Queens from Tel Aviv.
The Palestinian theme continued to snowball. The photo that World Pride host and television presenter, Gok Wan, tweeted from the stage to his 990,000 followers showed Palestinian flags and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign banner waving prominently in the crowd. The photo went on to be retweeted at least 470 times:
And just as the Tel Aviv promoters must have thought it couldn’t get any worse, the veterans of London’s first Pride march, 40 years ago, came onto the stage –carrying a Palestinian flag and with one wearing a Free Palestine t-shirt! The money Israel must have spent on trying to promote a tolerant image of itself was undone in moments by a few simple acts of solidarity with Palestine:
(Photo: Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
There’s a very clear lesson here for the Israeli government and the Hasbara unit: you can’t spin your way out of criminal activity, and you can’t cover up your occupation by uncovering the muscles of pretty gay men on a sunny beach in Tel Aviv.
London has been described by Israeli think-tanks such as the Reut Institute as the ‘hub’ of Palestine solidarity, but the dismayed Tel Aviv promotional team looked shocked at the scale of support for Palestinian rights as they desperately tried to pass round their small Israeli flags in rainbow colours. The message that we were conveying was clear – we cannot demand human rights and liberation for ourselves, and an end to homophobia, whilst ignoring the violations of human rights and the denial of liberation for Palestinians.
Recognising the need to organise on this issue in Britain, a group of activists came together to oppose Israel’s pinkwashing – from the student movement, from Unison and other trade unions, and from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. We planned to hand out postcards at World Pride which exposed Israel’s pinkwashing programme, raise consciousness about the struggle for Palestinian rights, and support Palestinian LGBT groups. But the warm reception to our message inspired even those of us who have been involved in campaigning for Palestine for years.
Some of the people interviewed on this video are seasoned activists. But many of those in the video were just participants at World Pride – who, when given the opportunity, wanted to send a message – that whether they define themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer – they oppose Israeli apartheid.
The first demonstrations I attended were over women’s rights, and lesbian and gay rights. But it didn’t take me long to realise that all struggles for rights and liberation are intertwined. My realisation of this linkage is increasingly shared by many in the LGBT community – from the generation that fought to establish the Gay Liberation Front, and the first Pride march, to youth and students who eagerly grabbed Palestinian flags to wave. It isn’t a difficult connection to make – you cannot claim to be progressive, and support freedom, if you are supporting the oppression of others.
This is the crux of the problem for Israel’s pinkwashing propaganda – it only works if you can successfully dehumanise Palestinians. Palestinians know that they are waging their struggle for liberation on a world stage – and even on territory which should be ‘easier’ for hasbara, such as at World Pride, Israel’s propagandists are losing the battle of public support.