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  • Israeli Gay Tourist Initiatives and the (In)Visibility of State Violence
  • Jennifer Lynn Kelly (bio)

Pinkwashing, in the context of Palestine/Israel, describes the methods through which the State of Israel displays and circulates an image of Israel as a gay-friendly oasis in efforts to both position Israel as "the only democracy in the Middle East" and divert attention away from Israel's human rights violations.1 And, as Walaa Alqaisiya, Ghaith Hilal, and Haneen Maikey, members from alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society remind us, pinkwashing is not merely a tactic of Zionism, but, since Zionism is predicated on racial, gendered, and sexual discourses, is constitutive of Zionism itself.2 With this in mind, in this essay I complicate the notion that pinkwashing functions solely to occlude or distract attention from Israeli state violence in order to instead ask: how and in what ways does pinkwashing in fact work to put state violence on display and render it justifi-able? I take as my subject, broadly, Israeli gay tourist initiatives, and more specifi-cally, the promotional material for one LGBTQ tour in particular, Taglit-Birthright Israel's LGBTQ Tour, in order to explore what, precisely, is rendered "visible" and "invisible" in Israel's attempts to showcase its gay-friendliness. I argue that gay tourism to Israel broadly, and organized tours like Taglit's LGBTQ Birthright Tour specifically, physically route tourists away from witnessing the everyday violence of Israel's racialized segregation yet simultaneously celebrate Israeli soldiers and inoculate against critiques of militarized violence by positioning it as integral to both the maintenance of diversity and the promise of safety from violence against queer tourists—a promise of safety that pivots on racialized and Islamophobic constructions of Palestinians. Gay tourist initiatives in Israel avoid the visibility of the occupation while implicitly justifying it, eclipse certain images of militarism while celebrating others, and legitimate Israeli state violence and settler-colonialism by rewriting them as security and defense. Israeli state violence, then, is not rendered invisible by Israeli gay tourist initiatives, but is instead selectively celebrated as both necessary and justified. [End Page 160]

The Promise of Nonviolence and the Racialization of Safety and Danger

In September 2010, Tel Aviv was nominated as the "Sexiest Place in the World" and "Best Breakout Destination" by MTV's gay travel magazine Trip Out. Tel Aviv council member Yaniv Weizman, an adviser to the mayor on LGBT issues, responded to the nomination by affirming that the Tel Aviv Municipality had made the marketing and branding of Tel Aviv as a gay tourism destination a "top priority" (YNet 2010). To that effect, the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Tourism launched an $88 million gay marketing campaign in Germany and England, along with the now-defunct website Gay Tel Aviv, which joined virtual handbooks like Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, also launched in 2010 (Israel Today 2010). Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, a "collaboration between Israel's Ministry of Tourism, the Tel Aviv Tourism Board and Israel's preeminent LGBT institution, the Agudah," vowed to "fulfill the city's promise as the world's newest gay capital" (A Wider Bridge n.d.). In 2019, its only online presence is hosted through A Wider Bridge, a North American organization committed to LGBTQ inclusion in Israel and advocating "constructive engagement with Israel" explicitly in response to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and its alleged "targeting" of LGBT communities and leaders by "pushing a false narrative of 'pinkwashing'" (A Wider Bridge n.d.).3

The article "Tel Aviv: A New Gay Capital in an Old World"—once hosted on the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe's website but now archived on Outvisions: A Magazine for LGBT Professionals—reminds visitors that Tel Aviv, like its sister cities Madrid, Paris, New York, and Berlin, is a gay capital of the world, "a dashing piece of gay heaven" nestled alongside "the ancient stones of the Old Jaffa" (Israeli Ministry of Tourism n.d.). Readers are guaranteed that, if they come to Tel Aviv during Gay Pride, they will meet "the men and women that unite as one under a colour-blind flag, accepting all under one big colorful community...


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pp. 160-173
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