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  • Pinkwatching Israel, Whitewashing Canada:Queer (Settler) Politics and Indigenous Colonization in Canada
  • Michael Connors Jackman (bio) and Nishant Upadhyay (bio)

Queer organizing against Israel’s deployment of gay rights discourses to mask the occupation of Palestine—referred to as “pinkwashing” within academic and activist circles—has raised pertinent questions about the relations between settler colonialism, sexuality, gender, race, and (gay) imperialism. Such campaigns have directed attention to the realities of occupation in Palestine/Israel while simultaneously obscuring the historical and present-day colonial processes that enable transnational political intervention on Turtle Island—or what is commonly known as Canada and the United States.1 In this essay, we ask how critics of Israeli pink-washing—known as pinkwatchers—varyingly challenge, engage, negotiate, perform, or reproduce settler colonialism on Indigenous lands. We examine debates over the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apart-heid (QuAIA) in Pride Toronto (Pride) in 2010 and the subsequent formation of the Pride Coalition for Free Speech (PCFS). By focusing on these debates, we seek to critically explore how certain queer praxes have worked to normalize and invisibilize settler colonialism in the Canadian context and to reproduce Canada as a progressive queer-friendly liberal state. While our discussion focuses on QuAIA, PCFS, and Pride 2010, the objective of our essay is not to single out groups and organizations but to contribute to conversations about the broader political stakes of anti-racism, anticolonialism, and decolonization in radical queer organizing. These examples serve as the entry point for us to consider in what ways the articulation of “radical queer perspectives” might be complicit with the white settler state project, wherein the casting of Canada as a gay-friendly nation invisibilizes past and ongoing processes of colonialism. Our essay [End Page 195] suggests that criticism of the use of queer rights and liberal tolerance to justify governmental, industrial, and military actions often works to limit discussions of settler colonialism to places, nations, and peoples who are already invisible within that frame. Describing how queer groups naturalize notions of belonging and Canadian identity, as well as how queer critiques of pinkwashing fail to address settler colonialism in Canada, we seek to underscore the way Indigenous struggles for sovereignty are invisibilized in activists’ attempts to address issues of free speech, homonationalism, and occupation in Palestine/Israel. Where the pinkwashing of Israel has been criticized by queer activists who effectively surveil and organize against, or pinkwatch, such activities, the complicity of their activist efforts with settler colonialism ultimately whitewashes colonization in Canada. We argue, therefore, that the pinkwatching of Israel enables the pinkwashing, or rather whitewashing, of Canada.

Logics of Pinkwashing/Pinkwatching

Toronto has played a pivotal role in transnational organizing around Palestinian solidarity and challenging the apartheid state of Israel—with several labor, student, faculty, artist, and community organizations central to this organizing. Collectively they have pushed the limits of analyses of solidarity, colonialism, imperialism, race, gender and, increasingly, questions of queerness and sexuality (see, for example, Ravecca and Upadhyay 2013). Through the work of QuAIA, Toronto has come to serve as a key site on the global map in the struggle against Israel’s attempts to pinkwash its occupation of Palestine. Not only does QuAIA challenge Israeli apartheid, but it also informs queer praxis in Toronto. It engages a queer perspective that is intersectional and contextualized by an analysis of colonialism, racism, Islamophobia, and heteropatriarchy. QuAIA was formed to work in solidarity with queers in Palestine and Palestine solidarity movements around the world, alongside groups such as Queers in Solidarity with Palestine and Israeli Queers for Palestine. The group challenges homophobia in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders. QuAIA acknowledges on its website that “the struggle for sexual rights cannot come at the price of other rights” ( QuAIA activists are very critical of Israeli apartheid and Israeli attempts to pinkwash and create an image of Israel as a “haven” of gay tolerance in the Middle East. They push queer politics beyond the liberal queer positive image of Israel, as a state [End Page 196] that recognizes same-sex marriages, permits legal adoption for queer citizens, and allows gays to serve in the military. As a voice for critical intervention...