Articles // Beyond Propaganda: Pinkwashing as Colonial Violence
Pinkwashing is the symptom, settler-colonialism is the root sickness. Recognizing pinkwashing as colonial violence can help us understand how Israel divides, oppresses, and erases Palestinians on the basis of gender and sexuality

Beyond Propaganda: Pinkwashing as Colonial Violence

This analysis paper explores a paradigm shift that alQaws has been exploring over the past decade of its grassroots community organizing, which centers the experiences of queer Palestinians.

To discuss what this shift means for queer Palestinian solidarity movements, join our community conversation “Beyond Propaganda: Reorienting Anti-Pinkwashing Organizing” with alQaws and Adallah Justice Project, Thursday October 22nd at 1PM ET / 10AM PT / 8PM Palestine time.

Over a decade ago, Palestinian activists adopted the term “pinkwashing” to describe how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians. Israeli travel guides and promotional videos advertise Tel Aviv beaches as a gay-friendly getaway destination—and hide the reality that tourist partygoers are dancing atop the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages. The open inclusion of gay officers in the Israeli occupation army is used as proof of liberal forward-mindedness, but for Palestinians the sexuality of the soldier at a checkpoint makes little difference. They all wield the same guns, wear the same boots, and maintain the same colonial regime.

Pinkwashing emerged as part of an ongoing international propaganda effort, which aims to rebrand Israel as a liberal and “modern” state in the face of the growing Palestine solidarity movement. By promoting cities like Tel Aviv as gay tourism destinations, Israel’s foreign ministry seeks to win the support of queer communities across the world and prevent international connections with the Palestinian struggle. Crucially, the promotion of “gay-friendly Israel” depends on presenting Palestinians (and Arabs more generally) as the exact opposite: sexually regressive and therefore undeserving of solidarity. These stereotypes draw on the long history of efforts to demonize Palestinian narratives and resistance using political strategies anchored in anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. 

The early years of anti-pinkwashing activism focused on identifying and combating efforts to hide the reality of Israeli colonialism and apartheid behind a smokescreen of queer-friendliness. However, as anti-pinkwashing campaigns and theories progressed, activists in alQaws realized that the term “propaganda” could not capture the true scope of pinkwashing. While pinkwashing often appears to the world as a global marketing strategy, it is ultimately an expression of Israel’s deeper gender and sexual politics and the ideological foundations of Zionism. 

Pinkwashing is the symptom, settler-colonialism is the root sickness. Recognizing pinkwashing as colonial violence can help us understand how Israel divides, oppresses, and erases Palestinians on the basis of gender and sexuality. 

Israeli settler-colonialism works by breaking apart and eliminating Palestinian communities, whether through the military violence of occupation and siege, the legal regimes of apartheid, or the denial of refugees’ right of return. Yet it also divides Palestinians internally and psychologically, in the personal realms of self-perception and collective identification. In order to understand the nature of this struggle, we also have to understand ourselves, and how colonization impacts our inner lives.

Pinkwashing pushes the racist idea that sexual and gender diversity are unnatural and foreign to Palestinian society. When this idea is internalized within Palestinian communities, it alienates queer and gender non-conforming Palestinians and isolates them as a social group. These compounding social pressures tell queer Palestinians that they must give up on some part of their identity or experience: we can either be queer and not accepted as a Palestinian, or we can be Palestinian and not accepted as queer. The destructive effects of internalized pinkwashing reverberate throughout Palestinian communities, strengthening myths that associate queer Palestinians with Israeli collaborators or Westernized native informants and propagating feelings of hopelessness that narrow our political imaginaries. 

Pinkwashing is also a disempowering framework: if gender and sexual oppression are an essential part of what it means to be Palestinian, then there is no way to challenge or change it. At no point can queer Palestinians be regarded as radical agents of transformation within our own society. Instead, pinkwashing compels queer Palestinians to interpret their experiences and pain through the lens of victimhood and powerlessness, which contributes to the broader disempowerment and suppression of all Palestinians under colonial domination.

When queer Palestinians are spoken about by Israel’s defenders, it is only to paint a portrait of individual victimization that reinforces a binary between Palestinian backwardness and Israeli progressiveness. These portrayals suggest that Palestinian society suffers from pathological homophobia, and that no dissenting voices could ever survive for long within it. Pinkwashing tells queer Palestinians that personal (and never collective) liberation can only be found by escaping from their communities and running into their colonizer’s arms. The pervasive myth of Palestinians finding “queer refuge” in Israeli cities flies in the face of the actual policies of the colonial state, which are premised on the exclusion and destruction of Palestinians—queer, trans, or otherwise. The fantasy of Israeli humanitarianism falls apart as soon as the colonial situation is taken into account. There is no “pink door” in the apartheid wall. 

Yet “Israeli savior” myths persist, in spite of their obvious contradictions, because pinkwashing works tirelessly to erase the presence of its most formidable opponent: a Palestinian queer movement that uncompromisingly merges the fight against colonialism with the fight against patriarchal and capitalist oppression, and which views itself as an integral part of Palestinian society and the anti-colonial struggle. The systematic erasure of progressive and politicized queer voices serves the interests of the colonial power and its narrative. 

AlQaws places emphasis on pinkwashing as colonial violence in order to uncover Israel’s deeper sexual and gender politics. By rejecting colonial fragmentation and refusing to allow a wedge to be driven between the self and society, we are able to combat our exclusion and claim a place for ourselves in our communities and in our struggle. In alQaws’ work, Palestinian queerness is not simply an identity, but a radical approach to political mobilization and decolonization.

What does this mean for international solidarity activists and for Palestinians organizing in the diaspora? This document was conceived in the hopes of reorienting anti-pinkwashing work to center queer Palestinian voices and incorporate approaches that have developed throughout two decades of grassroots organizing in Palestine. In activist circles based in the Global North, pinkwashing has largely been regarded as a propaganda strategy and fought through campaign-based anti-pinkwashing initiatives. Drawing on the analysis of pinkwashing as colonial violence will not only allow activists to better combat instances of Israeli propaganda, but will situate pinkwashing within its broader settler-colonial context and allow us to make connections to other forms of colonialism and gendered/sexual oppression. Anti-pinkwashing work is conducted in the spirit of internationalism and anti-imperialism, but we also hope for this resource to live in dynamic local organizing, and evolve according to the context it is read and used in.