Thursday, November 24, 2011

On the recent anti-Israel use of the word "Pinkwashing" in the NY Times

You are probably aware by now of a recent Israel-bashing editorial in the NY Times that accuses Israel of "pinkwashing." The editorial defines "pinkwashing" as "a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life." The term has an interesting genealogy. Once upon a time the familiar word "whitewashing" became the inspiration for something called "greenwashing." "Greenwashing," meaning "a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company's policies or products are environmentally friendly," was coined in 1986 according to Wikipedia. This lead to other permutations. A Forbes article describes "pinkwashing" as "an unhealthy product trying to improve its image by giving to breast cancer-related efforts." I guess we should call that "Pinkwashing I" while the NY Times definition is "Pinkwashing II."

If you contemplate the definition advanced by Sarah Schulman, the NY Times editorialist, you will notice a shift in the pattern. "Greenwashing" puts a green veneer on something not environmentally-friendly. "Pinkwashing I" means putting a "pink" veneer on something actually unhealthy. "Pinkwashing II," however, doesn't seem to have much to do with how tolerant an actual society is of gays. Schulman tells us that homosexuality was "decriminalized in the West Bank since the 1950s, when anti-sodomy laws imposed under British colonial influence were removed from the Jordanian penal code" and mentions three gay Palestinian groups, one of them devoted to boycotting Israel. Are those "incomplete indicators of human rights," as in her assertion that "gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights"? What is that "relative openness" of Tel Aviv "relative" to? The rest of Israel? The rest of the Middle East? Iowa? Is all this of any interest to Schulman's presumed reader? Besides its display of intense hostility to a particular "national origin," this editorial places us in a very spooky and convoluted realm of ultra-progressive identity politics.

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