Pro-Palestine protestors carry a banner reading 'You Cant's Pink wash Colonialism' in London, UK.

The Zionist Use of Homophobia and Sexuality  


For the last one hundred and forty-three days, we have been inundated with eyewitness accounts, images, and testimonies of atrocity after atrocity. This is the most recent crescendo in violence that stretches across 18 years of the siege on Gaza and 75 years of settler colonialism in Palestine. Not only are Palestinians in Gaza in mortal danger of direct assault from the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), but they are also at risk of premature death through starvation and disease. In this context, the genocidaires and their allies enlist any apologia within reach.

In the endless craven defenses of colonial domination, queer and feminist solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is met with contempt. Amidst a genocide, the spectre of Palestinian homophobia persists in Zionist rhetoric. In this line of thinking, solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle conflicts with the queer/feminist’s self-interests. This misdirection – we must call it that – proceeds as follows:

  • Queer and feminists’ anticolonial solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation, which necessitates a stance against Israel’s colonial, genocidal project, is decried as delusion. It is not Palestinians that are worthy of queer and feminist sympathy. Zionists insist, once again, that Israel is the only defense of democratic rights, particularly for women and queers, in the region
  • The accusation of delusion against these queer and feminist solidarity is buttressed by the Zionist insistence that these people should try going to Gaza! This proposal is made with complete sincerity as Gaza’s people, infrastructure, and land is devastated by the Israeli Occupying Forces.
  • The intended inference being that it is Palestinian mores, and not the aerial bombardment and ground invasions inflicted on Palestinians, that will be life-threatening to the queer during their hypothetical visit to Gaza. The logistics of entry and departure to an area under siege, the ongoing military campaign at Rafah, and the Right to Return do not factor into the thought experiment.
  • If the queer/feminist in question happens to actually be Palestinian, they are dismissed as too attached to their innately violent culture. In other words, the queer Palestinian is only of interest to the Zionist imagination insofar as they can be used to perpetuate the project of indigenous annihilation.

The aim is delegitimization. It renders Palestinian sovereignty and liberation a threat to those figured as marginalized by their gender and sexuality. The basic components of this rhetorical strategy reveal how gender and sexuality appear in the machinations of colonial domination. Pick any colonial apparatus across modern history, one will find justification for the extermination and expulsion of the indigenous population through an appeal to the colonizer’s moral and cultural superiority. The colonized possess an inferior culture and thus morally objectionable gender and sexual customs. In kind, the colonial imagination always positions itself as possessing superior principles, conventions, and identities.

Palestinians walk through a ravaged street following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, on 10 October 2023. Image: Mahmud Hams/AFP

Zionism’s Queer Instrumentalization

Rather than dignify Zionist recriminations of queer and feminist solidarity, we would do well to investigate Zionism’s instrumentalization, not of queer life, but of gender and sexuality itself. Focusing solely on gendered and sexualized identities, whether they be man, woman, heterosexual, queer, transgender, and so forth, is insufficient for a queer feminist confrontation with Zionism. It entertains a dangerous logic that some gendered or sexualized life is more vulnerable, and therefore more precious, than others.

The task at hand, then, is to unravel how gender and sexuality configure in Zionism’s ideological debasement and material domination of the Palestinian people. To position oneself against the Zionist instrumentalization of feminist and queer identity and politics, it is necessary to engage with how sexuality constitutes the genocidal violence in Gaza and the occupation of historic Palestine.

The image of the IOF soldier, Yoav Atzmoni, holding up a Pride flag during the ground invasion of Gaza is steeped in the depravity of this opportunism. The scribbling of “In The Name of Love” in English, Arabic, and Hebrew on the flag betrays the motivation of the genocidal campaign. Not only is it deceitful in its figuring of the Israeli colonial project as a form of deliverance, but it also defends the destruction of Gaza’s people and their land in service of the colonial project, figured here as just.

In the visual grammar of this portrait, we may call it Soldier Enacts Genocide, the foreground justifies the background. In front, Atzmoni’s smile stretches across his pink face and the flag across his hands, the only source of contrast. Behind him, the yellow-brown and greys of a landscape flattened in cold blood. Devoid of the previous color and content of entire worlds held in the rubble and remains of Palestinians murdered and displaced by the Occupation.

One can easily find Atzmoni’s statement alleging this image is a record of the first raising of the Pride flag in Gaza. But his words are gratuitous. The image communicates, with horrific clarity, the ideology undergirding the genocidaire’s actions. This, this colonial use of the accusation of queerphobia, indeed the instrumentalization of queer “love”, is by no means the only logic or even the dominant logic that undergirds the genocide. And yet, it is significant as a disclosure of how the colonial project exploits sexuality and gender for its own maintenance.

Weaponizing Homophobia

When it comes to queer solidarity with Palestine, homophobia takes on a spectral quality. What about the homophobia? is a persistent frame. It is a suggestive question; it insinuates its desired response. The suggestion is as follows:

  • The homophobia in question is located outside of the usurped borders and ideological contours of the Zionist project. In turn, it is limited in its experience and impact to the constantly contested homes, fields, hospitals, municipalities, airports, schools, universities, prisons, camps of besieged and Occupied Palestine. Indeed, the definite articlethe’ in the homophobia is a referent to the Palestinian psyche and their interpersonal relations. Cultural regression is the appropriate terrain of the colonized, not dignity, land, and justice.
  • The suggestive quality of the question lies, perhaps most insidiously, in the phrase what about. What about reveals the logic of conditionality inherent to the question. What about, when posed in the face of queer solidarity, implies that the object that follows the what about forecloses queer solidarity itself. The object that follows the what about will repudiate the opposition to genocide and colonial domination. The object that follows the what about will throw the solidaristic relation into crisis. The what about renders Palestinian self-determination provisional. One can go so far as to say it negates Palestinian being itself.

We must remain vigilant to the colonial apparatus’ introduction of contingency into our politics. Entertaining the accusation of Palestinian homophobia only legitimizes the colonial project. It imposes its myopia onto our political vision. We must remember the fallacies inhering the accusation.

Question the notion that homophobia is the only violence that renders queer people vulnerable. Question the convenience of the proposition that it is always the subject of colonial domination that introduces hostility and violence to queer life, or, indeed, any life.

LGBTQ activists carried this banner at a pro-Palestine rally in Toronto, Canada, Nov 2023. Image: Twitter / Judy Rebick

Smearing Palestinian Solidarity

You may already be familiar with the “Welcome to Columbia Untisemity” skit released by “Eretz Nehederet” (A Wonderful Country), a satirical television show by the Israeli Broadcaster Keshet. Over approximately three minutes, the skit mocks Palestine solidarity campaigns in the US universities. Two people wearing fake piercings and bright wigs, one wearing a multicolored keffiyeh, open the video with the following exchange:

  • Hi everyone, we are live on YouTube with Columbia Untisemity News where everyone is welcome: L, G, B, T, Q, H…
  • H?
  • Hamas.
  • Yeah, I totally simp Hamas, it’s so trending right now.

The students are coded as queer with disconcerting exaggeration. The skit ends with a deeply racist depiction of a Hamas fighter in a video call with the ‘students’. Through a hyperbolised Arab accent, the ‘fighter’ threatens the supportive students because they are queer. The students are none the wiser as, according to the logic of the skit, the students’ reverence prevents any notice of the open hostility.

The aim is to ridicule queer solidarity with Palestine. The central thesis is an indictment, positioning solidarity as delusion. A foolhardy act of self-jeopardy. It frames the principled, anti-colonial stance for the liberation of Palestine and Palestinians as countering the interests of queers themselves. Beneath this Zionists’ disparagement of queer solidarity with Palestine is the assumption that to be queer is to be only invested in the survival of the self at the expense of others. It is a displacement. It projects its zero-sum view of the world onto others’ politics.

In doing so, it reveals the moral destitution of the colonial imagination, its myopic view of not only queerness but solidarity itself. It is completely ignorant of the histories of queer and feminist solidarities and collaboration with anticolonial movements. It is, in the first place, alienated from the premise of solidarity itself: that our livability is relational, that we are interdependent, and that our interdependence is contingent on the end of colonial violence. 

Colonial Violence and Gendered Politics

The use of sexuality in any colonial context exceeds queerness or ‘homosexuality’, so to speak. We see this in the images shared by the IOF. Soldiers are unable to hold in their glee as they pose in abandoned and ruined homes across Gaza. Articles published by Israeli newspapers, in the casual style of a lifestyle feature, how IOF soldiers make meals from ingredients and equipment found in the homes of fleeing Gazans.

Graffitied messages taunting the dead and the displaced. Here, a specific photo comes to mind. A group of IOF soldiers stand in the middle of a seized and deteriorating home in Gaza. The walls are graffitied if not by the men in the photo, then by their associates. One of them holds up an item left behind by the fleeing Palestinian inhabitants: a red negligée. Once again, colonial devastation is in the background, a shock of color representing the derision towards the devastation in the foreground.

This is also how sexuality appears in the settler colonial project. The material displacement and annihilation of indigenous populations are neither sufficient nor satisfactory for the colonizing force. It must also perform the ideological debasement of intimacy of the colonized. Even their sexual life, in all its mundanity. Sexuality in the colonial context is neither limited to the evocation of the queer subject nor the spectre of homophobia. It is a mode of domination directed towards the colonized en masse. It is not simply an accusation of cultural degeneracy. It is one of the many instruments of annihilation itself. 

In its solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation, queer politics must be vigilant to how neither sexuality nor gender are a mode of differentiating vulnerable or worthy populations, least of all in a genocide. As long as they are Palestinian, neither the heterosexual nor the queer, adult nor child, man nor woman concern the colonial project.

Sexuality and gender are part of the logic that configures the material and ideological violence of colonization. They do not, however, offer any safety from colonial violence. Yes, there is a difference in the gendered experience of colonization and displacement. That much is clear from the last 75 years. But gender and sexuality gain meaning to the colonial apparatus insofar as they aid its project.

Gendered signification persists under these conditions only to an extent. But the abjection under colonial annihilation is, as we have seen during the last four months, totalizing. Neither sexuality nor gender offers protection from occupation, colonization, and genocide. That should be the starting point of queer solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Abeera Khan

Abeera Khan is a Lecturer in Gender and Sexuality at the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS, University of London.

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