Puar, Jasbir. (2014). “Citation and Censure: Pinkwashing and the Sexual Politics of Talking about Isreal.” In Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (Eds.), The Imperial University (pp. 281-297). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.
Flowing along nicely with the general theme of The Imperial University; Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, Jasbir Puar’s chapter on Citation and Censure is centered around her experience of being completely misinterpreted, and thus quite unfairly criticized for an article she had published in 2010 entitled “Israel’s Gay Propaganda War”. Shortly before she was to give a talk at a conference, Puar found out she was being accused of anti-Semitism based on her critique of the Western construction of the Muslim “Other”. Even more upsetting, however, was the fact that she found out another scholar had very publicly made derogatory comments about her, and her work, stating in an interview that Puar was not only essentially insane for viewing Israel as a totalitarian state but also implied that she was ridiculous for basing her analysis on her activist work. This negative experience, as Puar expresses in her chapter, quite clearly illustrates the ways in which academic freedom is contested. This is particularly true in cases, such as Puar’s, where the scholar’s dissent is based on a critique of Israeli State oppression that doesn’t hold in line well with powerful forms of imperialism, such as the United States.
This chapter, which is based on a lecture Puar eventually delivered at Humboldt University, is concerned with conveying the ways in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is related, often in incredibly complex ways, to debates regarding gay and lesbian rights. Essentially, Puar is arguing that the framing of sexual rights has implications on regional politics within the Israel-Palestine conflict, but that these implications also extend across the globe to the United States and to Canada. As an example of the ways in which global politics can indeed be affected by regional politics, Puar points to the Brand Israel campaign. Within the clever realms of this campaign, she argues, pinkwashing is produced as a means for Israel to reiterate the terms of Palestinian occupation by ensuring that it is well-established on a global scale that Israel is civilized while Palestine is barbaric, uncivilized and even homophobic (287).
In strategically branding Palestine as unfriendly toward gays, Israel is creating and perpetuating an image of Palestine that allows it to be deemed as increasingly backward and unsavory in the eyes of the world’s more liberal and progressive (or, powerful) countries in the West. By casting Israel as the more gay-friendly and democratically free country, the Brand Israel campaign strategically targets international events that are set in very large global cities, such as film festivals, in order to further perpetuate the image of Israel as superior to Palestine, and in hopes of gaining more international support in their crusade against Palestine. Thus gay rights are simply a framing mechanism being used by Israel as a means to further continue to oppress Palestine, as Puar argues.
Further, Puar refers to her previous works on what she has termed as “homonationalism”, and argues that homonationalism is a powerful force which serves to reinforce US colonial interests by evaluating nations based on their treatment of women and homosexuals. The perceived oppression of women and/or gays then serves as a powerful means to “justify imperialist violence” (283) based on the nation’s failures to live up to contemporary neoliberal expectations of so-called equality. Therefore, Puar is illustrating the ways in which gay and lesbian rights are linked to political oppression, but more importantly to the politics of colonial control on the part of the West over nations that are deemed as uncivilized. When looking at it in that way, one can see how the issue of colonial oppression and control on the part of the West is not one that has been squelched at all in modern, supposedly egalitarian neoliberal times. Rather, it has simply been reframed in ways (such as through the Israeli gay rights movement) in which nations that are perceived not to convene with contemporary standards of acceptance are made to appear as completely uncivilized and backward. This appearance of being unable to convene with contemporary neoliberal expectancies thus creates a climate in which the seizing of imperial control over them is framed to be deemed as acceptable, or even necessary.
Indeed, Puar’s chapter clearly illustrates the ways in which widely accepted notions of cultural superiority are often used as a very effective means of domination and control. Further, although Puar was accused of anti-Semitism, she argues that what she is offering is not anti-Semitism at all, but rather an analysis of the ways sexual and state politics can be linked. Therefore, the accusations of anti-Semitism that Puar was faced with are reflective of the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as a means to suppress dissenting voices. Through including her own struggles with academic censorship in her chapter, Puar’s piece not only discusses gay and lesbian rights as they are framed in the Israel/Palestine conflict, but also the ways in which dominant neoliberal ideas can be used as an effective means of control from within academia as well.