A foolish op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times illustrates well the approaching failures of the latest trends in Israel advocacy.
“Pinkwashing” may be an unfamiliar term to most, but it’s been the hip new expression in anti-Israelist Western circles for years now. It refers to the efforts by the state of Israel and Israel advocacy organizations to promote Israel’s liberal treatment of its gay population, which is certainly the freest, by an extreme long shot, in its region and perhaps in the entire Western world, where even San Francisco may not be as welcoming to gays as Tel Aviv.
The attractiveness of this kind of argument is easy to see. Because Israel is seen most harshly in the West by the left, it is the “progressive” case for Israel that must be made. (Evangelicals and conservatives, presumably, will go on loving the Jewish state no matter how large or, shall we say, exuberant, the Tel Aviv gay pride parade becomes.) Since the left today reflexively voices its concern over gay rights, the thinking goes, highlight sexual freedom in Israel. A similar thought process is behind efforts to promote Israel’s environmentalist credentials. Nowhere in the world of Israel advocacy are these kinds of efforts more attractive than on the college campus, where defining oneself as a believer in gay rights and an environmentalist are two of the chief assumptions that govern intellectual life.
The Times pinkwashing op-ed reflects the related problems of this kind of advocacy. While it may have an important effect on the center of opinion, it will do nothing to dent the anti-Israelism of the intelligentsia. Most importantly, by eliding the fundamental question at the heart of the conflict, namely whether or not Jews have a right to self-determination in their homeland, advocacy on this score may win small victories but still find itself continuing to lose the war.
It also is, seen in a certain light, a specie of the traditional Jewish accommodationist political strategy. Rather than demanding acknowledgement of their rights on their own terms (as most peoples do), Jewish Israel advocacy, even when promoted by the state of Israel itself, continues to fall back on ways to make itself appealing to the governing proclivities of the day. Yesterday’s order was nationalism, so Leo Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, and their followers cast the Jewish national project in line with it. Today’s tendencies lean in other directions, so Jews find themselves pitching their arguments along those lines. All will find themselves forever flummoxed by the ferocity of anti-Jewish politics until they come to understand it is a hatred that cannot be appeased.
The alternative is a robust attack on those ideologues governed by a fundamental misunderstanding of the right to self-determination that underlies our present international order, driven by the conviction in thought, word, and deed that Jewish rights are not a topic up for debate.
We may of course still fail to diminish the potency of the West’s current anti-Israelist madness. At least in this way we would give ourselves a fighting chance.