What’s Black & White & Pink All Over?

This is a  guest post by Paul M

On January 22nd, gay (lesbian, etc…) anti-Israel extremists succeeded in shutting down an Israel-oriented reception at the LGBTQ meeting in Chicago under a charge of “pinkwashing.” To its credit the National LGBTQ Task Force, the organizers of the meeting, issued a statement immediately after the event condemning antisemitism. And yet even they, despite declaring their intention to be clear, still ended up dancing around “how the events of the evening unfolded.”

The events of the evening unfolded as a witch-hunt. “Pinkwashing” is not a matter of a normal political disagreement; it’s in a whole different category. The smear of pinkwashing turns on essence, the idea that Zionism—that is to say, Zionists—has a core nature which is essentially evil, so that Zionists should and legitimately can be shut away from everyone else. Because evil is the true heart of Zionism, anything that suggests a different aspect is therefore a lie and moreover a knowing lie, told to mask the essence.

Normal people—gay, straight, white, brown, religious, secular, whatever—have identities that are multifaceted. You can be Oxford-educated and a High Church cleric or a Trot. You can be simultaneously feminist and colour-prejudiced, though the other way round seems to be more popular at the moment. Your preferred political party or religion may also have some good aspects and some not-so-good ones, and they will likely be so intertwined that they can’t be separated out. In the modern, educated, thinking, Guardian-reading, BBC-watching, Western world it’s a given, or once was, that we may disagree on almost anything, but no one thing defines our “essence.” We are composites of our various overlapping identities. Normal people are complicated; normal people, if they’re not bigots, understand that. But for the “pinkwashing” brownshirts essence is everything when it comes to Zionists, and they will decide what the essence is; the rest of us will be told. Under the law of pinkwashing there is no complexity and no nuance. Zionists—all Zionists and only Zionists—are simpler than real people.

It gets worse. If you have an essence you are bound to it forever. Once you have declared me a genocidal racist in my immutable core, you have put me in a prison from which there is no escape. Anything that might show another side of me is trivial at best and more probably a false face. Anything I do to improve my standing is useless, short of a public rehearsal of my guilt & remorse. If they only had the power, the peddlers of pinkwashing would be driving us in the direction of the public self-denouncements once popular in the Soviet Union and the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia. In the case of Zionists no concession, no surrender of territory or security or rights will sanitise us so long as we exist. No good facet tells against the bad. The logic of essential evil has only one solution, and it’s not co-existence.

Back in the bad old days when there were antisemites, nobody hated Jews just because. Nobody ever said “I know they’re just people but I hate them anyway,” they always had a good reason. Where people were devout, everyone knew the Jews were a nation that hated and were hated by God. When people felt economically endangered, they knew the Jews were behind communism; when capitalism was the threat the Jews were self-evidently The Money. And when Hitler was building his new German reich out of the rags of the old one, good Germans (who were not necessarily Nazis in any other particular) found they had no trouble seeing that the Jews were the parasites eating away at German greatness, the essence of the foreigner. All of this was about shackling Jews to a supposed essence, the better to harness hatred against them: So also with “pinkwashing” and Zionism.

“Pinkwashing” is very old vinegar in modern bottles for contemporary tastes. Anyone who is genuinely serious about their anti-racist or pro-justice principles and finds themselves at all drawn to it needs to take a deep breath and spend time sifting very carefully through their own heart.