Bret Stephens’ ‘pinkwashing’ ignores Israeli state violence

The Pulitzer prize-winning Wall Street Jour­nal journalist Bret Stephens, in his public in­terview at Vassar College on September 20th, argued that we should “support Israel” because, among other things, “Israel is the only country in the Middle East that respects (gay and wom­en’s) rights.” As a result, he said, Israel was the best place in the region to be gay. To “support Israel,” we gathered from his response to stu­dent questions, meant, among other things, re­jecting the activism of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

This is a cynical argument that demonstrates disregard for Palestinians, LGBTQ individuals, and especially those who fall into both groups. Yes, LGBTQ Israeli Jews are in a better place than they were a generation ago, and their ef­forts to secure acceptance and equal protection should be celebrated. But Israel has not ex­panded this protection to LGBTQ Palestinians. In fact, in their efforts to crush resistance to the occupation, Israeli security forces collect infor­mation on gay Palestinians, whom they threat­en to “out” if they refuse to collaborate with them. Surely Stephens would agree this is not an example of “respect(ing) gay rights.”

If we took Stephens at his word, and assumed he was concerned about all LGBTQ individu­als in the region (and not just Israeli ones), his argument would imply occupied Palestinians would gladly put up with land seizures, mass arrests, imprisonment, torture, mutilations, and killings… if only Palestinians were all gay. This is absurd. We must recall that Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 (and continues to refuse to readmit these refugees or their de­scendants), regardless of their sexual or gender identity.

What if we trained Stephens’ logic on our own country? Are the demonstrations, boy­cotts, and other forms of activism mobilized against racism, police brutality, and mass in­carceration unfair to the US because the US respects women’s and LGBTQ rights? Would Stephens dismiss protests following the police killings of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, and so many more with a comment like “hey, don’t those people appreciate gay marriage?” I hope not.

Furthermore, Stephens’ consistent compar­ison of the status of LGBTQ Israeli Jews to that of LGBTQ individuals living elsewhere in the Middle East is deeply flawed. Of course, LGBTQ people in many places face real prob­lems. After a period of increasing acceptance during the revolution, for example, the US-backed al-Sisi regime in Egypt has raided many of Cairo’s gay clubs, broken up parties, traced people on hook-up apps such as Grindr, and ar­rested hundreds. But it is nothing short of racist to build an argument that assumes this intoler­ance has always been, or always will be, the rule in Egypt.

The great Islamic modernist thinker Rifa’a Rafi al-Tahtawi provides an example of how at­titudes change. Writing after a visit to Paris in the 1820s, Tahtawi praised the French for their intolerance of homosexuality. He implored his fellow Egyptians to embrace the French exam­ple by condemning such behaviors, and hoped Egyptian men would start speaking more of women in their erotic poetry. In France, he gushed, “one doesn’t even hear conversations about this subject.”

Times have clearly changed. Attitudes to­ward sexualities are not immutable cultural at­tributes, but rather rooted in specific historical circumstances.

I urge fellow members of the Vassar commu­nity to reject Stephens’ exploitation of genuine concern for LGBTQ rights to attack SJP or JVP and defend Israel’s racist policies. His argument is a cynical effort to link support for LGBTQ rights to support for an oppressive and racist regime. It is disingenuous and harmful to Pales­tinians, LGBTQ individuals, or anyone hoping for true equality.


  1. I see at least 2 flaws in the logic expressed here. One is comparing the situation for LGBTQ people in Israel proper to those in occupied territories. (…’Israel has not expanded this protection to LGBTQ Palestinians.’) Yes, because those Palestinians have their own governance. I’m sure if Israel were more controlling of Palestinian life in the West Bank (including ‘protecting’ LGBTQ Palestinians in the West Bank from their own leaders) outcry about occupation would be greater. So, it isn’t for Israel to protect the rights of persecuted people living under Palestinian rule. The bottom line is you are easentially making Stephens’ case- in the region, only democratic Israel protects LGBTQ rights. That’s not racism, it’s fact.

    Second, I don’t even understand the case made here for racism somehow relating to Israel assuming oppression of LGBTQ people will never lessen in Egypt. Huh? No one is fortune-telling or otherwise predicting the future in Egypt. When I hear Israel defenders comparing their western-style democracy to the unanimously more oppressive and repressive regimes in its region, I don’t hear anything like ‘and it will always be that way because they’re ____________’ Have you, professor? Again, what I hear when that argument is made is a bare stating of fact. As opposed to the projecting and speculating in which you have engaged here.

  2. The leap of logic required to swallow this argument is staggering. It is truly nonsensical.

    “If we took Stephens at his word, and assumed he was concerned about all LGBTQ individu­als in the region (and not just Israeli ones), his argument would imply occupied Palestinians would gladly put up with land seizures, mass arrests, imprisonment, torture, mutilations, and killings… if only Palestinians were all gay. This is absurd. We must recall that Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 (and continues to refuse to readmit these refugees or their de­scendants), regardless of their sexual or gender identity.”

    This paragraph is even worse:

    “What if we trained Stephens’ logic on our own country? Are the demonstrations, boy­cotts, and other forms of activism mobilized against racism, police brutality, and mass in­carceration unfair to the US because the US respects women’s and LGBTQ rights? Would Stephens dismiss protests following the police killings of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, and so many more with a comment like “hey, don’t those people appreciate gay marriage?” I hope not.”

    Stephens was crystal clear that criticism of Israeli policy was legitimate, but that selecting Israel for de-legitimization was not. Similarly, those who would say that the US is a racist and settler-colonial state with no right to exist because of the illegal actions of a Chicago, Tulsa or Baltimore policeperson would also be wrong. This is a nation of laws. Those who break the law and are caught will be prosecuted. Some will be convicted and some will go free. Perhaps our system is not perfect, but it’s the best one out there.

  3. Bret Stephens came to Vassar to enter into a dialogue with students and faculty. Professor, I am an alumna who could not attend the talk because I live too far away, but I know from friends that you did not ask questions during the Q&A session. Why couldn’t you find the courage to make your arguments during the Q&A session and be prepared for Stephens to reply to you? You might have been able to convince me of some of the points you make in this article. I know, as Ari Shavit admitted in his talk at Vassar last spring, that Israel isn’t perfect. However, I never got to find out how Bret Stephens would have responded to you. (Although the video I saw ended before the Q&A session, I’m sure friends in attendance would have described an exchange between you and Stephens to me.) What was the problem? Were you too afraid that he’d challenge you in return?

    Bret Stephens is much further to the right than I am on most matters. I disagree with his columns more often than I agree, but I still think he’s a great intellect. If you want to find out how intelligent anti-Trump conservatives think, he’s the journalist to read.

    I note that you and the SJP at Vassar, in advance of Bret Stephens’ talk, organized an event to discuss two nights later why Stephens was wrong. You were too closed minded to even give Stephens a chance to speak before you made your plans. At the end of the talk, you didn’t serve as a role model for your students by showing them how to engage respectfully with people who disagree with them, even if some of them took the opportunity to ask questions themselves. I find your behavior incredibly boorish and anti-intellectual. I expect better of the Vassar faculty.

  4. Why is a professor so obviously antisemitic allowed to teach at a college, and why is he supported by so many? There are no “Palestinians” per se. There are only the Arabs who lived in an area that us steeped in Jewish culture and has been for 4000 years. It is strange that the “Palestinians” are the ones who use violence by stabbing individuals in public and use children, schools, and hospitals as launching points for missiles when the Isreali army is the supposed “evil enemy”. If there case is so strong, they wouldnt have to resort to tactics like this. Their real goal is the extermination of the Jewish people and state. The use of the “Islamophobia”is used by the author and others of his ilk in order to paint anyone who disagrees with his ideas as a racist, when it is he who is the racist. Anyone who dares to compare the treatment the Israeli government gives to Arabs to the treatment of Jews by the Nazis is a sick individual who should not be placed in a position to teach such hatred to young impressionable minds. If the “professor” wishes to prove his point to, debate Mr. Stephen’s in an open forum, without interruption from the SJW’s he is sure to employ to try and shout down any opposing viewpoints to his own. When Arabs who came out as gay would be executed in their home country flee to Isreal, that is the only story that needs to be told about LGBT treatment. “Pinkwashing” is another way for the author to distract from his true intention, which is to slander the Jewish people and Isreal in pursuit of his goals, whatever they may be.

  5. JOSHUA SCHREIR makes no mention of what Palestinians themselves do to gay members of their society.

    JOSHUA SCHREIR makes no mention of the bigotry and racism from Palestinians against Jews.

    JOSHUA SCHREIR makes no mention of wars and terrorism against Israel from Palestinians or Israel’s other neighbors.

    JOSHUA SCHREIR systemically omits mention of anything good about the tiny Jewish state, while omitting mention of anything bad about the dicator and jihadist-run regions that surround Israel.

    JOSHUA SCHREIR is holding the Jewish state to one unfair standard, and the rest of the region to a lower standard, and he is using these pair of standards as an excuse to ONLY demonize Israel and not Palestinians or anyone else.

    There is a word that describes holding Jews to one hateful standard and everyone else to a nicer, easier standard. Look up the word. And compare it to what JOSHUA SCHREIR is doing here.

  6. And why does JOSHUA SCHREIR ignore state violence from Egypt, Syria, Palestinians, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Kuwait, etc against Jews, Christians, the state of Israel, against minorities, women, etc and instead only demonize Israel?

  7. I’ve been getting a kick out of josh Schreier since grad school. He doesn’t know Arabic or Hebrew. He’s never written so much as a book review on Israel/Palestine. Yet he is so sure of his moral compass that he has indoctrinated generations of vassar students. When will the blind decide that they would like to be led by someone who can see?

  8. This article makes no sense. Why would you criticize Israel for embracing the LBGQT community by pointing out that an Islamic poet condemns homosexual and most Islamic countries persecute this community?

    What is your point?

  9. I thought the Arabs/Muslims left Israel in 1948 because the Arabs states ushered them out do they could murder all the Jews without confusion of having Muslims in the battle arena. There is widely available documentation of the plans to distribute the land to Muslims once the land was cleansed of Jews.

    Why are you against a peaceful resolution to this conflict? Israel already respects the rights of its Muslim, Coptic, Christian and Jewish citizens. Over a quarter of the members of the elected Senate are Muslim or Christian. Why doesn’t the Palestinian solution include this type of open-minded acceptance of the differences amongst the people and promote this diversity as a source of strength?

  10. While one could have a difference of opinion with Bret Stephens, I must take issue with many of Joshua Schreier’s assertions. In a Misc article this week, Prof. Schreier asserted that the BDS movement is not trying to expel anyone. This is a disingenuous assertion as much of the propaganda from the BDS movement, including SJP’s propaganda, calls for the elimination of the State of Israel. This assertion ignores the history underlying the founding of Israel.

    One would think that, based on Prof. Schreier’s criticisms, Mr. Stephens’ only point was that Israel should be supported because those who identify as LBGTQ are afforded equal rights in Israel. That was not the main thrust of Mr. Stephens’ argument. To take this point in isolation is disingenuous. Prof. Schreier resorts to the “pinkwashing” argument, a BDS canard created by Jasbir Puar and others to delegitimize Israel. It should be recalled that, when Prof. Puar spoke at Vassar last year, she evoked the old anti-Semitic blood libel by alleging that Israel harvests the organs of Palestinians, an assertion for which she provided no citation and was sharply criticized. Note that Prof. Schreier makes similar unfounded assertions by accusing Israel of “torture, mutilations, and killings” of Palestinians. Can Prof. Schreier cite a source other than the BDS movement and its advocates, such as Max Blumenthal and Jasbir Puar? He also conveniently does not mention terrorist acts of Palestinians, such as shootings and stabbings of innocent civilians, including a recent stabbing of an American college student who was a tourist in Israel.

    Bret Stephens also addressed Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territory and right of the Palestinians to elect their own government. In Gaza, they elected Hamas as their ruling party, a recognized terrorist organization that includes the destruction of Israel in its charter. Hamas immediately unleashed a barrage of missiles on Israeli towns from Gaza using Palestinians as human shields. But Prof. Schreier neglects to ever mention this in any of his comments.

    I do not claim that the Israeli government is right in all it does or that the State of Israel is perfect. I oppose many of the policies of the current Israeli administration. But that does not justify calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state. Through Prof. Schreier’s “pinkwashing” argument he attempts to delegitimize Israel by equating the terrorist acts of missile attacks, shootings and stabbings against innocent civilians in Israel with demonstrations, boycotts, and other forms of activism mobilized against racism and police brutality in the U.S. To equate terrorism with demonstrations and civil disobedience exposes Prof. Schreir’s bias against the Jewish state.

    I must take issue with another tactic of Prof. Schreier and the movement for which he advocates. BDS, including SJP and JVP, has a policy of anti-normalization. This means it will not engage in dialogue with opposing viewpoints on this issue. In fact, part of SJPs playbook is to refuse to engage in civil discourse and then shout down opposing viewpoints (thus the concern that Bret Stephens would be interrupted). This has happened at other campuses and we witnessed this tactic at Vassar when pro-Israeli students were shouted down at a public forum a few years ago where the topic of which, ironically, was civil discourse on campus. It happened again this past Spring semester at a student government meeting when students who opposed the BDS resolution were bullied and belittled by those who supported the resolution.

    Prof. Schreier engaged in anti-normailzation when Bret Stephens spoke. He sat in the audience and could have challenged Mr. Stephens openly, but he did not. Instead, he scheduled a closed session with students that provided no opportunity for open debate with those of an opposing viewpoint. Prof. Schreier and other Vassar faculty who support BDS have been invited to openly debate this issue. Instead, in response, pro-BDS Vassar faculty have exchanged e-mails suggesting that the faculty boycott those pro-Israel speakers on campus. If the BDS positon is so righteous and based in fact, why won’t BDS faculty openly debate this issue with others?

    Interestingly, although BDS supporters refuse to engage in open and honest dialogue and shout down those who do not agree with them, when they are criticized, as when Jasbir Puar was criticized for her anti-Semitic speech on campus, they spuriously proclaim that their rights to free speech and academic freedom are being infringed. Since when is open discourse on a college campus infringement of free speech and academic freedom?

  11. The claim that “we must recall that Israel EXPELLED 750,000 Palestinians in 1948″, should be a trigger warning for bias, misinformation, and lack of context. The ‘We” coopts the reader and “recall” implies that we need only remember an actual fact, not analyze a current proposition. 1. The Jews accepted, while the Arabs rejected, the1947 UN partition plan, the 1st of many lost opportunities for a Palestinian state; 2. There was no Israel yet, and far from being able or intending to expel anyone, the Jews were threatened with invasion by 6 Arab countries broadcasting their intent to kill them; 3. They also ordered all local Arabs to leave (and return in a few weeks after the Jews had been ‘driven into the sea’), threatening any Arabs who stayed with treason after the Arab victory; 4. the ‘Palestinians’ did not exist as group until the Russian KGB invented them to create a civil rights issue in the 1960’s cold war; 4. The exclusive mention of 750,000 Palestinians ignores the 850,000 Jewish citizens of Arab countries intentionally dispossessed and expelled with only the clothes on their backs. This trigger warning indicates an intent to mislead, not inform, therefore caveat auditor.

  12. It is notable that Professor Schrier attended the Stephens talk (co-hosted by my classmate and roommate, Steven Cook ’90) but chose not to engage Stephens directly. Instead, revealing once again the fecklessness for which the BDS movement in general and Prof. Schrier in particular is at least consistent, he saved his “critique” for the SJP/JVP “talk back” — an event closed to alumni/ae.

    He follows up his critique with this letter, which both mischaracterizes Stephens’ arguments and promotes the “pinkwashing” theory: that Israel is a gay friendly nation simply to distract from its purported oppression of Palestinians.

    Apparently the intellectual rigor for which Vassar prides itself does not apply to the faculty who parrot BDS’ casuistic arguments.

  13. Schreir’s claims are based on non-documented data and weak strawman arguments designed to demonize, delegitimize and hold Israel to a double standard. These three criteria define the standard of Anti-Semitism as outlined by the U.S. State Department (see link below). Schreir has presented this Anti-Semitic rhetoric for years and is surely in violation of the College’s Non-discrimination policy. As troubling as his actions are what I find more disturbing is his unwillingness to provide a forum for an open dialogue on this complex issue encompassing a diversity of opinions. Schreir has chosen to avoid numerous opportunities to debate and to question experts who hold opposing views. When he chooses to hold his “talk back” events he restricts access in an effort to quell and squash alternative views. He harshly imposes preconceived notions in order to indoctrinate young minds. This fly’s directly in the face of the purpose and ideals of a Liberal Arts education. As is the case Schreir is a stain on the entire Vassar College faculty, he has damaged the reputation of the college and has significantly damaged the Vassar College brand. I will not give a single penny to the College so long as he remains a member of the faculty. I encourage all other Alumni to follow a similar course.

    State Department definition of Anti-Semitism

    Andrew Newman ’87

  14. It is not surprising that Prof. Schreier’s letter distorts Stephens’ arguments and is replete with incorrect ‘facts’ and misleading omissions — including his assertion that Israel “expelled” 750,000 “Palestinians” in 1948, when in fact many, if not most, of the Arabs living there at the time left because their leaders encouraged them to get out of the way while the Arab armies pushed the Jews into the sea. And, of course, not a word about the over 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab Middle East nations and other Muslim countries in response to the creation of modern-day Israel. Nor is it surprising that Prof. Schreier did not have the fortitude to make his ludicrous “pinkwashing” assertions directly to Bret Stephens, preferring instead to spread his propaganda at a “talk back event” two days later that was closed to everyone but students and faculty. Prof. Schreier has long made clear that he views his role as being an activist rather than a scholar; his approach is to indoctrinate his students with a litany of Israel’s supposed injustices, rather than expose students to the full and complicated history of the world’s only Jewish state and its many accomplishments. Prof. Schreier has also repeatedly shown that he will not risk engaging in person with others who have the expertise, knowledge and confidence to challenge him. Why give his students any reason to be thoughtful when he offers them such a beautifully simplistic story of good (any anti-Israeli Arab) vs. evil (any non-Arab Israeli)? A story that he will not permit to be complicated by such inconvenient truths as the brutal persecution of gays and virulent antisemitism of much of the non-Israel Middle East. But while hardly surprising, Prof. Schreier’s latest anti-Israel screed is still a cause for sadness. He is the only faculty who teaches courses on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Vassar students with a genuine desire to learn about that subject (as opposed to an interest in having their biases confirmed) have no option but to try to educate themselves on their own. They deserve so much better than that.

  15. As a lesbian, I take claims of “pinkwashing” seriously. They imply that the pro-LGBTQ entity being painted favorably is bad underneath, and no good acts can redeem it. It is the logical equivalent of calling the pro-LGBTQ entity a demon. After all, we know that a demon is evil no matter what, and any kind or good acts done by a demon are done for evil purposes. A human being may do wrong, yet have redeeming qualities; a demon is simply evil, and irredeemable. Therefore the allegation of “pinkwashing” is nothing more or less than an old anti-Semitic trope—Jews are the devil—reworded to appeal to liberal-minded and progressive young people who look up to their professors. I want no part of it. Professor Schreir, keep your anti-Semitism away from the LGBTQ community. Don’t exploit us for your own political ends.

  16. Is Joshua Schreier really a member of the department of History at Vassar or merely a dilettante? I was taught that historians may have various interpretations of history, but those views should be based on evidence. Evocative of Jasbir Puar, unlikely ever again to be invited to campus, given her recent anti-Semitic blood-libeling’s effect on Vassar’s reputation and alumni giving, Schreier accuses the Jews of Israel, of “mass arrest, imprisonments, torture, mutilation and killings” of so-called Palestinians. I would expect that Schreier, who supposedly has a doctorate in history, would tone down his hyperbole and check his facts. Schreier continues, “In fact, in their efforts to crush resistance to the occupation, Israeli security forces collect infor¬mation on gay Palestinians, whom they threat¬en to ‘out” if they refuse to collaborate with them.” This is hardly “fact,” but appears to be based on an inaccurate statement by Fady Khouri, a self-proclaimed gay Palestinian blogger, who has written for +972 (which regularly invokes the Durban vocabulary, accusing Israel of “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing,” “racism,” “land confiscation,” “discrimination,” “displacement,” “failing to prosecute violence against Palestinians,” and “perpetrating another Nakba”) and The New Israel Fund (which funds NGOs active in campaigns that portray Israel as a racist, apartheid state (demonization), undermine Israel’s right to exist (de-legitimization), accuse Israel of war crimes and promote boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS), aimed at destroying Israel as a the sole Jewish nation.)

    Khouri, in a +972 blog entitled “Why I won’t be participating in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade 2015, wrote that “Israeli security forces exploit Palestinians’ sexual orientation to blackmail them into becoming collaborators.” Schreier has grabbed this concept without checking the facts. Khouri blogged that he bases this allegation on a 49-page 2008 publication entitled “Nowhere to Run: Gay Palestinian Asylum Seekers in Israel.” (see ). I have carefully read this document and there is absolutely nothing there regarding IDF blackmail or “outing” of gays. It is time for Schreier to do his homework rather than just digesting and regurgitating other people’s propaganda.

    Schreier has joined the pinkwash bigots who hate Israel more than they care about gay rights. Schreier views Israel, the collective Jew, as having evil motivation in their moral decision, unique in the Middle East, to support gay rights. Perhaps Schreier has read “Protocol of the Elders of Zion” too many times, since he continually accuses Israel of malevolent motives and conspiratorial actions in a manner similar to that 100-year-old discredited publication.

    Schreier continues to brainwash Vassar students with his inversion of reality by portraying Israel as a terrorist aggressor, while the Arab terrorist aggressors are painted as innocent victims and peace-loving progressives. For him and the students that flock around him, Israel is a Nazi-like country seeking genocide, while Hamas and their backers are merely protesters against social inequality inside Israel. For Schreier, terrorist aggression against Jews is really the pursuit of peace, while self-defense by Israel is genocidal mania.

  17. I will not rehash the many reasons why Prof. Schreier’s words and actions are not worthy of Vassar’s former
    reputation as a high ranking academic institution where important controversial issues can be discussed
    fairly, openly and respectfully. As an alum I look to the Vassar administration to deal with a professor
    who is bringing dishonor to our college. In the 65 years since I graduated I have contributed faithfully to
    to my college until a few years ago when the anti-Israel, anti-semitism became worrisomely pronounced.

  18. Indeed, as asserted above, Prof Schreier is a dilettante embracing tropes and staking claims on easily debunked false information about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. If his podium didn’t command center stage where he can influence unassuming and impressionable young students, his silly and unsophisticated rankings could be dismissed as what they are: unsupported nonsense so easily disproved by folks in possession of even a rudimentary eduction of the subject matter. He’s not a man of academia and I struggle to understand how a place like Vassar subborns such utter lack of scholarly sophistication. Opinions notwithsatnding, he’s just an embarrassment.

    I ask that you read my letter to the editor published Oct 12, 2016

  19. Having read the article, I now have a far greater degree of insight into why Prof. S. did not speak publicly with Mr. Stephens: the humiliating rebuttal he would have likely suffered.

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