Gays Debate 'Pinkwashing' as N.Y. Center Reverses Ban on Israel-Related Events

Pro-Israel Advocates Slam Theory as Critics Push Conference

Green Light: Sarah Schulman hopes she can now go forward with a talk about her book, which is critical of Israel, at the LGBT Center.
WIKICOMMONS/DAVID SHANKBONE/
Green Light: Sarah Schulman hopes she can now go forward with a talk about her book, which is critical of Israel, at the LGBT Center.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 20, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
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A debate over Israel is roiling New York’s gay and lesbian community.

Days after barring a talk by gay scholar Sarah Schulman about her new book that criticizes Israel, a leading New York gay community center effectively reversed its decision amid heavy protest and allowed the event to go forward.

Prominent gay elected officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, applauded The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s decision to lift a two-year moratorium on leasing space for events related to Israel, a ban that was originally aimed at preventing anti-Israeli events.

But the officials condemned Israel critics’ “pinkwashing” theory, which holds that Israel exploits its progressive attitude toward gay men and lesbians to mask oppression of Palestinians.

The growing cachet of the pinkwashing theory, of which Schulman is a leading promoter, has some gay leaders and Jewish communal advocates worried. Of particular concern to these officials is an academic conference on the topic, scheduled for April at the City University of New York and organized by Schulman.

Jewish communal officials assert that Schulman’s pinkwashing argument is prevalent only on the fringes of gay debate.

“I think the consensus is that this is the same anti-Israel left that’s been around for 30, 40 years in a new context,” said Jay Michaelson, founding director of the LGBT organization Nehirim and a Forward contributing editor. “This does not represent the gay mainstream or the wider LGBT movement or most academics doing this work,” he said, referring to the April CUNY conference.

“I think it’s very clear that this whole concept of pinkwashing is only even known of by a very fringe and radical group within the LGBT community,” said Hindy Poupko, director of Israel and international affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.


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