Op-eds

Bennett ’16: Pinkwashing is a poor reason to reject the Mock event

By
op-ed contributor
Friday, March 18, 2016

Last week, a petition began circulating online that demanded the acclaimed trans activist Janet Mock disassociate her lecture from its sponsors, Moral Voices and Brown/RISD Hillel. Among other accusations, the petition charges Hillel, and by extension, Israel, of “pinkwashing” the Israel-Palestine conflict. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, anti-Israel activists accuse Israel of showcasing its exemplary protection of LGBTQ+ rights as a means of deflecting attention from its conduct in the occupied territories of the West Bank. As a result, anti-Israel activists both on our campus and nationwide frequently boycott and protest events with LGBTQ+-identifying Israeli or Jewish speakers. As a gay, Jewish and Zionist Brown student, I find this pinkwashing argument weak, offensive and obfuscatory.

One reason that the petition likely chose to make this pinkwashing argument is that its authors cannot indict Israel’s treatment of its LGBTQ+ citizens. Same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in Israel four years before the occupation began in 1967 and was formally legalized 15 years before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same. Gay and trans citizens of Israel have had full rights to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces without hiding their identities since 1993. Israel remains the only country in Asia where same-sex marriage is recognized. Pinkwashing smears are indicative of anti-Israel activists’ pursuit of demonizing Israel in every respect; if a topic can’t be used to critique the Jewish state, it may as well never be discussed.

This pinkwashing argument is also incredibly offensive. Used as a cudgel to eliminate the discussion of LGBTQ+ rights when analyzing the Middle East, it erases gay Jews and Israelis by denying this minority within a minority spaces to explore their intersectional identities. Students who petitioned against Mock demonstrated their belief that Hillel should not be a forum for discussing LGBTQ+ identities or rights in any context because of the spectre of pinkwashing the Arab-Israeli conflict, as Mock’s speaking engagement wasn’t related to Israel or the Middle East in the slightest. These students’ vision of Hillel’s role on campus precludes LGBTQ+ activism in a world where little attention is paid to human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people in the Arab world both on campus and in the Middle East. How can these activists, many Middle Eastern themselves, dismiss my rights and those of gay Arabs and Jews as a distraction from more important issues when gay people across the Middle East are regularly executed, castrated and tortured? Even if I weren’t Jewish, as an out gay man there is not a country in the Middle East where I would be safe aside from Israel. LGBTQ+ rights may not be of the utmost importance to the predominantly straight activists who are obsessively focused on undermining Israel and Jewish support groups on campus, but they are to the thousands of Palestinian Arabs, Egyptians and Iranians, among others, who have sought asylum in Israel from their bigoted, murderous governments.

My gay, Zionist, Cuban and Jewish identities are neither separate nor divorceable, a fact that Brown/RISD Hillel has recognized and a premise that anti-Israel students reject outright by dismissing any discussion of LGBTQ+ rights within Brown/RISD Hillel. Brown/RISD Hillel has created spaces for Jews of every conceivable identity, including LGBTQ+-identifying Jews, Jews of mixed identity, Jews of color, Zionist Jews, anti-Zionist Jews, conservative Jews, reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, reconstructionist Jews, Humanist Jews and atheist Jews. As a native Hawaiian, black and trans woman, Mock speaks to students like myself who find themselves at the intersection of many identities, whether part of the diverse Hillel community or not.

It is not a coincidence that just as Israel has been the vanguard of codifying LGBTQ+ rights into law, the American Jewish community has been the source of many of the pioneers in the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for recognition and acceptance in the United States, including Emma Goldman, Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer. The Jewish community that raised me, including my temple, family and friends, provided me with the support and acceptance that allowed me to come out of the closet confidently at a young age. My first trip to Israel at the age of 14 demonstrated to me that, beyond the West Los Angeles bubble of tolerance I was fortunate to be born into, there were places I would feel safe and have a sense of belonging.

In response to anti-Israel student pressure, Mock decided to cancel her appearance at Brown. This is not just a loss for Hillel but also for the entire student body that will not have the privilege of hearing Mock speak about her life and advocacy for trans people of color. To those students who took pride in silencing Mock: This event was never about Israel, but rather about providing Mock a space to teach Brown students about her life work. Talking about LGBTQ+ rights in Israel and the Arab world does not dismiss discussion of Palestinian rights. A woman who speaks to many issues that are important to LGBTQ+ and African-American Brown students was silenced and shunned because a select few have blind animosity towards Israel, and inexplicably and by extension, Brown/RISD Hillel, which provides a safe space and varied programming for the large and diverse community of Jews on our campus. Mock, Brown students and LGBTQ+ activists deserve better.

Adam Bennett ’16 is president of Brown Students for Israel and can be reached at adam_bennett@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

14 Comments

  1. Yawn. Replace the words LBGTQ with Palestinian and the entire spiel about rights for people in Israel becomes a fantasy. That’s pink washing folks.

    • Judge Jeph says:

      Way to hide your own bigotry and hypocrisy behind that oh-so-clever username. I’ll just replace your “replace the words LBGTQ” with “Let’s ignore the human rights abuses committed by everyone else against anyone else and just talk about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians while also, of course, ignoring any Israeli/Jewish efforts aimed at coexistence, the numerous Israeli NGOs working to end the occupation from within, the decades of failed negotiations, the actual evacuations of Israeli settlements, etc. etc.” That’s antisemitism folks.

  2. David Eden says:

    Please check out JVP Watch on Facebook to see how anti-Israel activists tried to harm gay Jewish activists at the National LGBT Conference in Chicago. Shameful.

  3. ShadrachSmith says:

    Adam,
    The battle for hearts and minds is won by challenging Muslims to defend Islam’s right/duty for ruthless conquest, by the sword if necessary. So do that 🙂

  4. Willie Sam says:

    Nice piece Adam. Unfortunately, SJP strategy has switched recently from passing BDS resolutions to disrupting Jewish events and increasing anti-Semitism on campus. The Janet Mock fiasco marks their transition from an advocacy group to a hate group.

  5. Good job referencing Emma Goldman in your pro-Israel editorial. Looks like you don’t know anything about her.

    “I have for many years opposed Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry
    the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as
    Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a
    Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the
    many.” – Emma Goldman, “On Zionism”

    • Willie Sam says:

      Adam referenced Goldman as an advocate for gay rights. If anything, Goldman’s position on Zionism proved disastrously wrong, to the tune of 6 million.

      • No, Goldman’s position on communism proved disastrously wrong. The rise of fascism was because of the lack of a unified Left, not because people didn’t support Zionism. How can you seriously argue that opposing Zionism led to the Holocaust? Some ridiculous argument about how if all the European Jews just went to Israel, then there would have been none left for Hitler to kill?

  6. Judge Jeph says:

    Bravo, Adam. In considering this incident, it occurred to me (not for the first time, since it isn’t the first time the absurd pinkwashing claim has been raised) how these claims completely remove any sense of agency from the accused LGBTQ+ activists, making them powerless, unthinking pawns of the great and evil Zionist enterprise. That is, the pinkwashing activists are saying, “Janet Mock isn’t capable of thinking for herself and making her own decision about what groups to associate with, and she must never speak about LGBTQ+/people of color intersectionality in any Jewish context because Israel oppresses the Palestinians.”

    Kind of the way some of the same activists absolve/deny the Palestinians of any agency in the conflict – that is, “Israel (the European white colonialists) is oppressing the entirely blameless Palestinian people.”

  7. The following comment is for SJP and all those who latch onto their Jew hate.
    “Thank you, you made my point exactly. To you, there’s only one conversation:
    That Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and occupation.” No amount of facts will ever make you change your mind. And if any evidence surfaces that might contradict what you have convinced yourself to be the truth, you dismiss it with a wave of your hand as “pinkwashing.” Or “greenwashing,” or “girlwashing,” or “techwashing.”

    To you, Israel is not a real place with real people who live there. It’s a cardboard cutout, a caricature, a movie monster with Palestinian blood dripping from its fangs. You aren’t capable of logical or intellectual thought about it because you don’t want to think about what’s actually happening there. You just want to spew your hate and convince everyone else to be a brainwashed drone like you.”

  8. It’s interesting to note that Brown’s administration vapid embrace of so-called “tolerance” in actuality proven to be their embrace of the “intolerant”, i.e., SJP and the MSA.
    Tolerance of intolerance is intolerable. It is exactly what cowards have done throughout history. Look the other way, pretend hatred is something else; this is exactly what Brown’s administration is doing, but they’ll never acknowledge this for they’d rather save face than do the right thing.

  9. Didn’t a Hamas commander get executed because he engaged in “gay sex” recently? If there’s anyone who needs pinkwashing, it’s the BDS folk who support a political faction that would have killed Mock is she dared show up publicly.

    Seriously, SJP groups saying she’s welcome to speak elsewhere is like wolves telling sheep they’re OK provided they don’t talk to chickens.

  10. Whose idea was it to put a dropdown box with Daily Herald news stories that obscures eye level text every time a reader even inadvertently scrolls backwards the slightest bit?

    Regardless, I don’t know what I think of Mock or the kind of advocacy she has done for GLAAD. Her celebrity, I would say, puts her in a situation where she has so much to lose if ever she felt a need to speak candidly. I have to say, however, that I respect her decision not to be used the way she has been in every single story I’ve read about this incident – as a football.

    I wish she would just just drop the “trans” posturing and get on with her life as a woman. Identity politics has become such a drag on legitimate human rights concerns, as evidenced by the current Democratic presidential campaign.

    I really wonder how Janet Mock feels about being referred to as a “queer woman of color”(actually the statement by SJP did not even mention the word “woman” but referred to her as belonging to a group they refer to as “queer ‘people’ of color”) by SJP. If I were her I would be upset to have another identity non-consensually imposed on me to serve the agendas of others. Isn’t having identities imposed non-consensually the biggest problem faced by those with life experiences such as Mock’s? By the same token, an article I read in Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller, where the writer referred to her as “him”, took a tack in the comments section similar to the one taken by most of the commenters at the Daily Herald and was very sympathetic toward those from Hillel House who found themselves the center of this controversy, this in spite of all the ignorant comments about Mock peppered throughout the comments that appear after the “piece” by Blake Neff, who calls himself a reporter.

    Attaching prefixes and constantly describing Janet Mock as a “trans woman” or “transgender woman” may be helping her further a career as a celebrity activist but what do those expressions do for her integrity as a woman? It just creates more distortions for many of those her activism involves herself with even if those expressions inflate her importance as a celebrity spokesperson who preaches the GLAAD gospel on “identity”. I know Laverne Cox was paid $17,000 to speak at the University of Nebraska. I think she’s gotten more to speak elsewhere. All this makes me wonder what kind of arrangements were made on Janet Mock’s behalf at Brown. There’s a lot about this situation that makes me very uneasy.

  11. Turkmenbashi says:

    Perhaps it’s time for the Southern Poverty Law Center to be taking a long hard look at what’s really behind SJP…

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