February 28, 2013

'Pinkwashing'--More Anti-Israel Agitprop at CUNY

You'd think that after the recent debacle at Brooklyn College, anti-Israel fanatics would give CUNY a break.

Guess again.

The CUNY Graduate Center has scheduled for this spring a conference on "pinkwashing." For the uninitiated, "pinkwashing" is the almost comical claim that that the Israeli government highlights its record on gay rights to detract attention from its allegedly horrific treatment of the Palestinians.

There's one major difference between the Brooklyn BDS event and the Graduate Center. While the Brooklyn event lacked even the pretense of academic content--and thus was, on its face, agitprop--the Grad Center event disguises its agitprop agenda as an academic conference. (The disguise isn't too deep, given that one of the two Brooklyn BDS speakers, Judith Butler, serves as an invited keynote speaker.) Nonetheless, the conference features panels and such only-in-academia paper topics as "Homosociality and Homonationalism: Untangling Iranian Female-Female Desires from the US War Machine"; "Entangled Narratives: 'Queer Rescue' and Neoliberal Appropriations in an Era of Global Uprisings"; and "From Mestizale to Multiculturalism: The Production of Non-Normative Sexualities in Mexican Nationalisms." The conference also has several seemingly straightforward panels on international gay rights, topics unrelated to organizer Sarah Schulman's anti-Israel zealotry.

But the conference's thrust is on demonizing Israel. At least 17 of the conference's papers are in some way devoted to Israel--a country whose record on gay rights is superior to that of the United States. Gays and lesbians have openly served in the IDF for two decades, Israel has a national non-discrimination law based on sexual orientation, and the Israeli government, unlike the U.S. government, recognizes same-sex civil marriages performed in other jurisdictions. (Israel itself has no civil marriage.) This record, alas, seems likely to be "pinkwashed" by the conference organizers; none of the papers appear intended to analyze the Israeli record on gay rights in a positive or even a neutral fashion--except to focus on activities of gay Israeli Jews who agree with the pinkwashers' opposition to Israeli national security policies. Perhaps the most (unintentionally) hilarious paper title is "Aiding Israel: How The Iranian Media Bolsters Israeli Pinkwashing." If only the Iranians didn't publicize their policy of hanging gays, the perfidious Zionists wouldn't look so good by comparison.

In the end, the "pinkwashing" conference offers no insight about public policy but speaks volumes about the state of the academy. An astute observer of academic affairs once told me that while defenders of the academic status quo swear fealty to the race/class/gender agenda, gender always trumps class, and race always trumps both of them. The "pinkwashers" show that whatever the state of the academy's support for gay rights, among one activist quarter, anti-Israel fanaticism trumps concerns for gay and lesbian equality. CUNY "pinkwashers," it seems, have their priorities straight.

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