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Tel Aviv University
[TAU, Law] Aeyal Gross's Association with "Black Laundry" and the Origin of Pinkwashing

TAU, Law Prof. Aeyal Gross

Email: agross@post.tau.ac.il


Editorial Note
Aeyal Gross, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, has been subject of a number of IAM editorials.  Gross, the intellectual architect of the so-called pinkwashing theory, argues that Israel's liberal policies toward gays are an elaborate public relations scheme to cover up its "sins" of occupation of the Palestinians.   In 2011 Gross made it to the pages of the New York Times.  

In April 2013, Gross lent his name and stature to an academic conference, Homonationalism and Pinkwashing Conference at CUNY's Graduate Center and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. The event did not include any speaker about the lives of gays in the Arab world but oddly enough, a "Queer Arab Imaginary" panelist spoke about the film "Jenin Jenin". 

IAM has received a large number of emails asking why has Professor Gross adopted a seemingly unfair characterization of Israel's generous civil rights for gays.  The following explains the genesis of pinkwashing.

By his own admission, Gross developed the ideas for pinkwashing while a member of a radical gay group, the Black Laundry (Kvisa Shchora) that formed in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada.   Amalia Ziv's 2010 article "Performative Politics in Israeli Queer Anti-Occupation Activism" is instructive in this context.  Ziv noted that Black Laundry was founded by a group of radical activists who opposed the mainstream Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community that focused on equal rights for gays, including unhindered service in the military.  She also explained that the group opted for the name "queer" a term that did not denote gender conveyed by the label gay or lesbian.

The dissidents "linked the marginal sexual and gender identity of its members to the group’s solidarity with the oppression of Palestinians.  The rationale behind this linkage of marginal positioning and anti- occupation politics was formulated in terms of the systemic relation between different oppressions."  Ziv quoted from a handout Black Laundry distributed at a gay event: "The oppression of minorities inside Israel is a product of the same racism, the same chauvinism, and the same militarism that sustain the oppression and the occupation of the Palestinian people. There can be no genuine freedom in an occupying society. In a militaristic society there is no room for the other and the underprivileged: lesbians, gay men, transsexuals, labor immigrants, women, Mizrahim, Arabs, Palestinians, the poor, the disabled, and others."  [p. 541]

Black Laundry replaced the quest for assimilation and normality- a tactic preferred by mainstream LGBTs - "with a celebration of deviance. Contrary to the usual attempt to counter “negative stereotypes,” the group’s strategy was to embrace such stereotypes defiantly.  Thus the handout that the group circulated at Pride 2002 proclaimed: “We are ugly, sexually frustrated, hairy, mannish, fat lesbians; bitter humorless feminists in need of a good fuck, whores of Arafat, bleeding heart Israel-hating traitors; effeminate cock-sucking sissy pussy-boys taking it up the ass.”  [540]
In contrast to LGBT which did not go out of the way to draw attention to sexuality, "Black Laundry’s practices sometimes included provocative physical presentation (marching topless or in underwear), ambiguous gender presentation (men wearing bras, women in male drag), and the inscription of the members’ bodies as sexual — and sexually perverse — by wearing labels such as “I have sex with Palestinian women” or “I blow Arafat.”   [542]

Linguistically, Black Laundry adopted hybridity, "produced on the linguistic plane through slogans that tied together sexual or gender transgression and national transgression: “Transgender, Not Transfer,” “Free condoms, Free Palestinians.   [543] 

Ziv credited the "performative politics" of the group, as attested by the pictures below, with creating a very high profile for the anti-occupation message.

In his own article "Between Queerness and Homonationalism," Gross explained that In 2001, "after the beginning of the second Intifada, a group of friends – myself included – decided that given the egregious human rights violations in the occupied territories, they could not take part in the pride parade as usual.  Instead, they would march as a group, dressed in black and carrying a banner declaring “There is no pride in the occupation.” The group attracted a great deal of attention, both at the parade itself and later in the local and international press. This led to the founding of the queer-radical activist group Black Laundry."   

Though the group subsequently disbanded, Gross, on the faculty of Tel Aviv University Law School, pushed for the queer-radical agenda of keeping the focus on the Palestinian issue.  Much to his dismay, he watched the emergence of what he described as "homonationalism," that is the alleged co-optation of gays into the national narrative that presented Israel as a progressive liberal country in a Muslim Middle East, increasingly hostile to gays.  As he puts it, gay rights victories "are quickly co-opted by the government in its efforts to present Israel’s liberal credentials. Gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool.  In this campaign Israel is portrayed as a progressive “western” country, as opposed to “backwards”, homophobic Islamic countries.  This is then used to justify Israel’s own version of the “war on terror,” including the occupation and attacks on the Palestinian population."
Gross was particularly upset because "this process is the co-optation of the plight of gay Palestinians, often through the creation of a false narrative according to which Israel supposedly gives them safe haven."
For Gross and his friends, the anti-gay policies of the burgeoning Islamist movement in the region presented a real dilemma. In its heyday, Black Laundry activists could proudly embrace Arafat - considered a progressive hero in the leftist circles.  But under the Islamist Hamas rule in Gaza and beyond, gays have been harshly treated. To condemn these tactics would have been tantamount to admitting that some Islamist practices are not compatible with liberal values. 
As Jasbir Puar, a pro-Palestinian advocate lamented, it could signal that "the Palestinians are barbaric, homophobic, uncivilised, suicide-bombing fanatics. It produces Israel as the only gay-friendly country in an otherwise hostile region."   She noted, that "Britain's premier queer human rights organisation, at a Free Palestine rally in London, 21 May 2005 engaged in its own form of linguistic hybridity; "Israel: Stop persecuting Palestine!" "Palestine: Stop persecuting queers!" and also "Stop 'honour' killing women and gays in Palestine."  This framing has the effect, however unintended, of analogising Israeli state oppression of Palestinians to Palestinian oppression of their gays and lesbians, as if the two were equivalent or contiguous."
Like Puar, Gross understood that such an analogue had the potential of undermining his agenda.  Indeed, on one occasion he seemed to be leaning toward reporting on violations of gay rights even it reflected badly on Islamism.  He noted "that groups such as Human Rights Watch in their work on Iran and other countries were, I thought, very careful in their reports and did important work, and that we should be careful that the critique of homonationalist cooptation should not cause us not to address sexuality based violations of human rights." 
But when it came to Israel the political agenda clearly prevailed, the solution to the dilemma was pinkwashing, which, as noted, dismissed Israel's liberal attitude toward gays as a "fig leaf."  In Gross's words, "the larger the area [of occupation] that needs to be hidden, the larger the fig leaf must be."

Gross is not the only member of the radical academic fraternity to practice radical hypocrisy.  But, as a professor of law who puts his academic legitimacy behind pinkwashing, his hypocrisy is especially glaring.

"There is no pride in the occupation"

"Lesbians in Solidarity with Palestinian Lesbians"

"If you agree there is a connection between oppression of one minority to oppression of other minorities, if you understand the commercialization of the Pride and class oppression is connected, that oppression of lesbians, Capitalism and women-trafficking is connected, that oppression of Mizrahim and Palestinians is connected, that oppression of new immigrants and foreign-workers is connected, that oppression of transgender and women is connected, that oppression of gay and militarism is connected, that the oppression of handicapped and beauty queens is connected, that house demolition and building settlements is connected, so you have no choice - you are also connected! Join us to the gay parade in Tel Aviv, see you at the parade, wearing black or naked.

Kvisa Shchora - direct action group against the occupation and for social justice."


                                                     "I f**k  Palestinian females" 

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