Israeli LGBT activists accuse country of ‘pinkwashing’ over Berlin Pride booth

An Israeli man waves a Pride rainbow flag bearing the Star of David

Israeli LGBT+ activists issued severe condemnation of the government’s initiative to promote the country as a gay-friendly destination abroad while denying same-sex couples surrogacy rights at home.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry sponsored a booth at the annual Berlin Gay Pride parade, held on Saturday. The stand distributed rainbow-coloured Israeli flags, balloons with a a rainbow heart and “Israel” written on them, information booklets about the country and its traditions, while a promotional video by the ministry of tourism played on a screen next to the festival’s main stage, Israeli channel iTV News reported.

The promotional effort takes place every year, according to Israeli media, but this year’s timing has angered Israeli LGBT+ activists, who only last week held an unprecedented one-day strike and large-scale demonstrations across the country to protest a surrogacy law that excludes gay couples.

Participants gather for the 40th Christopher Street Day gay pride march on July 28, 2018 in Berlin, Germany (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially pledged support for an amendment that would have expanded surrogacy rights to gay fathers, but eventually voted against it. Religious leaders in the country have expressed strong words on the issue. Last week, more than 200 rabbis have signed a letter labelling gay people “perverts” who want to “destroy the concept of family.”

“The hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Ohad Hizki, director of The Aguda, Israel’s LGBT+ Task Force that first called for the July 22 strike, said in a statement quoted in the newspaper Haaretz.

“With one hand, the government takes away basic rights to a family and parenthood from the LGBT community, and with the other, it markets the state as an LGBT tourist destination,” Hizki’s statement continued, concluding: “Instead of working for equal rights for Israel’s LGBT citizens, they are courting members of the LGBT community abroad. The time has come to apply in Hebrew what the state says so nicely in English, German and French.”

A similar feeling was shared by Yair Hochner, founder and festival director of the Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival. Hochner, who was at the parade in Berlin, shared a picture of the Israeli stand in a Facebook post.

“It was so painful for me to see how our country uses the amazing Israeli LGBT+ community when at the very same time it passes laws against us,” Hochner wrote.

“It irks me so much to see how the week after the mass protest in Rabin Square, the Foreign Ministry is promoting the next parade in Tel Aviv on huge screens on the centre stage. They’re simply taking advantage of us to promote an economic tourism agenda and false propaganda as if everything’s great for the LGBT+ community in Israel,” he continued.

Around 400,000 people participated in the annual street parade this year (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty)

“If there’s one word that comes to mind, it’s ‘pinkwashing,'” Hochner added, referring to the practice of a state or a company to promote themselves as LGBT+ friendly, to downplay their negative behaviour.

Hochner also said it would refuse to organise Israeli LGBT film programs for festival abroad on behalf of the Israeli foreign ministry or embassies until LGBT+ people in the country gain full rights.