***** Washing Israel’s Dirty Laundry

Artwashing, Sportswashing, Foodwashing, Veganwashing, Pinkwashing, Faithwashing

See also Red, Blue, and Purple Washing.

In my last blog, I talked about greenwashing in the context of the Sierra Club’s backtracking on its decision-reversal and reinstating their educational tours to Israel.

Here I want to discuss other ways Israel attempts to wash its dirty laundry. Remember the context of these efforts – in the past two years, it has been acknowledged that, “Israel's system of institutionalised segregation and discrimination against Palestinians . . . amounts to a system of apartheid” (in the words of Amnesty International) by not only the Palestinian Christian community and a number of Christian denominations in the United States, but also major human rights groups within Israel (Yesh Din, B’Tselem) and around the world (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Harvard Law School).


(click for full article from The National News)

In 2005, as part of a global hasbara (propaganda) campaign, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a conscious decision to be aggressive in using cultural programming as a “new means of presenting the country’s ‘prettier face’ to the world.” Film festivals, literary festivals, concerts, other forms of entertainment, gatherings of scholars in various fields – all these and more are being used now to “art-wash” Israel’s record of human rights violations and structural apartheid.

For example, the 2016 Oscar nominees received in their gift bag an all-expenses paid 10-day trip to Israel worth $55,000. When the BDS movement called attention to this gift, none of the 26 nominees accepted the offer. From the Chinese government using one of the Uighurs to light the Olympic torch to Israel holding fashion competitions, concerts featuring foreign megastars, and more, beware how culture is used as a propaganda tool to soften the global “brand” of the country.

That is why the cultural boycott of the BDS movement is so important. In South Africa, those artists and entertainers who did not respect the global boycott were said to “entertain apartheid.” This is why the example of entertainers like Lorde and Roger Waters and Natalie Portman, and others are so important. This is why an academic boycott of complicit Israeli universities, too, is included in the BDS movement, and why most recently, the Middle East Studies Association, with over 80% of Middle East scholars voting in favor, joined with the American Anthropological Association, the Modern Languages Association, and the American Studies Association in supporting BDS.


(see full article in The Guardian)

Amnesty International UK defines sports-washing as “a process or moment where a country with a bad human rights record attempts to use sport as a way to create positive PR to clean up its image and deflect attention away from its human rights record.” While Israeli soldiers shoot to kill or maim Palestinians, especially in Gaza, for no more than peacefully protesting the non-existent border, the Israeli-Canadian Sylvan Adams “is devoting this chapter of my life to promoting Israel,” especially through international biking and racing associations. The same thing with other Israeli tycoon-ambassadors with football (soccer).


(click to see full article in Mondoweiss)

When Anthony Bourdain began his 2013 segment of “Parts Unknown: Jerusalem” with the following comment, you knew you were going to get the unvarnished truth:

Where does falafel come from? Who makes the best hummus? Is it a fence or a wall? By the end of this hour, I'll be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, socialist, a fascist, CIA agent, and worse. So here goes nothing.

Food plays an important role in understanding the culture, history, and identity of a people. So when Israel tries to brand Arab and Palestinian staples like hummus and falafel as either “Mediterranean” or “Middle Eastern” or “Israeli,” we see this as one component of, at best, “cultural appropriation,” and at worst, the effort to wipe out the historical memory of an entire people, and to cover over the discrimination of the Palestinian people – in short, a strategy of cultural erasure.

Israel’s propaganda campaign might be laughable if not for the diversion of water from the Jordan River to settlements, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of olive trees in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, their deliberately poisoning crops in Gazan farm fields, counting the minimum calorie food intake of Gazans for allowing food into Gaza, and more.

Diana Buttu, the Canadian-Palestinian human rights lawyer, put it like this about the visit of the celebrated chef/author.

It was very refreshing when Bourdain came here. It was very revealing that after the segment aired and when he talked about Palestinians that he made sure to mention the issue of dehumanization, that Palestinians had been deprived of their humanity. He saw Palestinians as human beings … and that for me was very powerful. He not only loved food but all the things that surround food – love, humanity culture, tradition. It was powerful because he was bringing his love and passion for food and coupled it with the story about Palestinian deprivation.

 A sub-category of foodwashing is veganwashing.

(click for full article

Israel has branded itself as “the first vegan nation,” attempting to mainstream veganism in the country in the last decade. Israelis call Tel Aviv the “vegan capital of the world,” and Army Radio declared, with one out of eighteen soldiers declaring themselves vegan, the Israeli military “the most vegan army in the world.”

 “Does the soldier have a vegan machine gun, with vegan bullets?"

- Nick McAlpin

 But according to Ahmad Safi of the Palestine Animal League, “The Israelis are using veganism and animal rights to clean up their image around the world.” And Professor Aeyal Gross from Tel Aviv University declared:

 When veganism becomes a tool to improve the IDF’s image, or that of Israel as a whole […] and when attempts are being made to cover up the fact that the IDF operates an occupation mechanism that denies people their basic human rights, veganism is being appropriated for propaganda purposes.

 The facts are very different, however. Nick McAlpin reports:

“According to an Office of Economic Cooperation and Development Report published earlier this year, Israel is the sixth biggest per capita consumer of meat and the number one per capita consumer of poultry. Moreover, The Guardian has documented the horrific treatment experienced by farm animals subjected to live export from Australia and Europe to Israel.

 And he continues:

"Does the soldier have a vegan machine gun, with vegan bullets?"

Vegans understand that “veganism is not just a diet. It is an ethical way of life, based on the principle that violence against, and the suffering of all animals – including humans – is an evil to be fought against. How then can the IDF be ‘the most vegan army in the world’ when it is complicit in unspeakable violence against the Palestinian people?


(Visit Pinkwatching Israel for more)

 The Israeli advocacy organization, “A Wider Bridge,” is part of a wider Israeli hasbara “Brand Israel” campaign launched in 2005, promoting Israel as a haven for LGBTQ+ rights and painting Palestinians (and Arabs and Muslims) as a monolithic tribe of intolerant, dangerous, extremist homophobes as well as (like the other “washing” strategies) to deflect the global community’s attention from Israeli human rights and international law violations.

 Our friend, Ali Abunimah, coined the term “pinkwashing” in 2010 to describe this aspect of Israeli propaganda.

 Yes, Tel Aviv may be a relatively open and safe space for LGBTQ+ Israelis and even for gay tourists, but that is certainly not the case for LGBTQ+ Palestinian citizens of Israel. This disparity is also demonstrated in the inequality of resources allocated by the Israeli Ministry of Education for Israeli Jewish and public schools and LGBTQ+ organizations versus Israeli Arab schools and LGBTQ+ organizations.

 Finally, let us not forget that Israel’s Christian Zionist friends around the world on the Religious Right are widely known for their homophobia and transphobia, as well as their patriarchy, sexism, and Islamophobia.


Finally, we consider “faithwashing,” in the guise of “dialogue,” interfaith dialogue and interfaith relationships. We know that the growth of ecumenical and interfaith partnerships in the last 60 years has been a blessing, not only for personal friendships but also in addressing systemic injustice nationally and in local communities.

 However, as Marc Ellis has described it as the “ecumenical, interfaith deal,” and Mark Braverman as the “fatal embrace,” for the Christian or Muslim partner with their Jewish friends, their friendships and partnerships can proceed very well as long as discussions of Israeli apartheid and oppression of Palestinians is off the conversation table.

Faithwashing also whitewashes Israeli violations of international law through other means:

Promoting “Holy Land Tours” that reduce Palestinians as mere window dressing to the biblical holy sites as tourists “run through the land where Jesus walked” or “interfaith tours” with some combination of Jews, Christians, and Muslims that promote the various “washing” projects documented in this blog;

Suggesting that Jews and Muslims have been embroiled in a centuries-old conflict over the land;

Positing a both-sides-ism, where each side has a valid narrative, instead of viewing the Israel agenda as an intentional settler-colonial project;

Recommending that dialogue is the more propitious alternative to BDS;

Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and local Jewish Federations partnering with progressive Christian and Muslim organizations in fighting the “Muslim ban” or in other progressive justice work in the community all the while supporting anti-BDS laws on the state and national level, supporting US police force training by the IDF in Israel, and the like; and more.


Each of these “washing” projects are intentional components of Israel’s hasbara, propaganda “Brand Israel” campaign, into which the government pours millions of dollars annually. It is most critically important that we be ever-vigilant because they come in the guise of a wolf in the sheep’s clothing of social and religious progressivism and with friends and partners who are most often Progressive Except for Palestine (PEP).

I am reminded here of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.”

I’m writing this on April 4, the anniversary not only of King’s assassination, but also, one year prior, of his Beyond Vietnam speech, where he embraced the intersectional nature of all struggles for justice. And so it is imperative that we who are involved in the Palestinian struggle for justice and full civil, political, and human rights embrace the parallel (same) struggle for the rights of our LGBTQ+, feminist, indigenous peoples, refugee, LatinX, Muslim, Black Lives Matter, and other friends, including also, of course, the cause of environmental justice.

 “Kairos,” the South Africans and now the Palestinians call this moment, “now is the time for decision.” Or as King put it, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.'”

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