How pink-washing leaves Israel feeling squeaky clean

Published: July 9, 2014

Now that suspected Jewish extremists have confessed to the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir and are in police custody, it is only fair to look at the rumored scenarios that were spread before the Shoafat murder was seemingly solved – the ones speculating that the motive for the murder was an “honor killing.”

The rumor that Abu Khdeir had been murdered for being gay was spread widely over the social networks and treated as proven fact. Whatever the source of the rumors, they were disseminated over the social networks – and not just by the far right.

People posted to Facebook, with absolute certainty, that this was the motive for the murder, and that the victim was known at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (an LGBT organization in Jerusalem that had supposedly released a statement about his death). The executive director of Open House had to issue a denial, stating that the boy was unknown to the organization, which, in any case, had never issued any statement about him.

Despite the denials, photographs of the boy were posted online with the caption “The Arabs killed him for being gay.”

Even if the people in custody are still defined as suspects – which means that the murder is not completely solved – it is important to remember that the fact so many people were quick to believe the gay rumors shows a wish to deny the possibility that we are also capable of murdering children out of extremist national hatred.

Yet the willingness to believe those rumors uncritically has another significance: The marking of Palestinians as barbaric and homophobic, as people who would murder their own children for being gay.

It is difficult to avoid comparing the attribution of Abu Khdeir’s murder to homophobes to the denial of homophobia after the 2009 double murder at the Bar Noar LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv.

When the police thought Hagai Felician was the perpetrator (he was indicted in July 2013 but released seven months later without charge), it attributed the murder to personal revenge, not homophobia. According to the narrative that was published at the time, Felician had received information that one of his relatives, a minor, had been seen at Bar Noar and had asked the relative what he had been doing there. The boy told him that he had indeed been there, and that he had been sodomized by a community activist and wanted to hurt him.

Many people cited this scenario (which was subsequently ruled out) as supposed evidence that the murder was not a hate crime, but an act of personal revenge.

On the other hand, most people who have experienced homophobia understood that it was a homophobic crime for two reasons: Because this narrative was one of homophobia within the family, and because indiscriminate gunfire on LGBT teenagers at Bar Noar – even had it been perpetrated by a person whose hatred had been instigated by personal motives – is not disconnected from the social constructs of heterosexism and homophobia.

The desire to deny familial and societal homophobia in the Bar Noar case, together with the desire to attribute the murder in Shoafat to homophobia, are evidence of the success of pinkwashing – the use of LGBT rights as propaganda to portray Israel as an enlightened democracy and Palestinian society as homophobic.

In one case, this ideology sought to deny homophobia as a motive in the Bar Noar murder and replace it with personal revenge. In another, it demanded that the murder of Abu Khdeir be attributed to homophobia, which would cleanse Israel – that supposedly liberal and democratic country – of the guilt of racism.

The fact that so many Israelis, some of them gay, convinced themselves and others that Abu Khdeir was murdered by his family for being gay shows how successful this propaganda has been not only abroad, but also here at home.

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