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Critics of Israeli pinkwashing in the United States and Canada have increasingly engaged in comparative critiques of settler colonialism. Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto has invoked this critique for many years. Pinkwatchers across Canada also draw ties between Palestinian and Indigenous solidarity that are heightened by the recent emergence in Canada of the Indigenous people’s movement Idle No More. Today, scholars and activists ask how homonationalism and pinkwashing perform settler colonialism in Palestine, Canada, and the United States, and how settler colonialism in each state impacts their work. I write this piece to encourage such questions, and to invite questioners to address their relationship to Indigenous solidarity. As a white queer critic of United States and Canadian settler colonialism, my experience with Indigenous solidarity in these states informs how I engage Palestinian solidarity. Queer / trans Indigenous critiques and allied work by non-Natives already model a critique of settler colonialism and sexualization in Canada and the United States. Their potential synergy with critiques of Israeli pinkwashing can explain the forms of power we face and can expand and deepen our alliances.
In a series of essays last year on Jadaliyya, a wide-ranging discussion of pinkwatching engaged the critique of settler colonialism. Jasbir Puar and Maya Mikdashi called on pinkwatchers to theorize settler colonialism as a form of power in the Americas and Middle East and to avoid reproducing it in the United States. In answer, Heike Schotten and Haneen Maikey defended pinkwatchers in the Middle East as challengers of Zionism and questioned how activists in North America engage with activism in the Middle East. They also acknowledged the critique of settler colonialism as “a new layer of the growing debate.” Puar and Mikdashi replied that they “do not necessarily disagree” with Schotten and Maikey’s points, and that when critiquing complicity in settler colonialism they “were discussing pinkwatching activism in the United States only” (original emphasis). Among the many crucial issues these posts raised, I highlight settler colonialism because it also was a focus of my concurrent work on accountability and alliance. One year ago, in a proposal to the Homonationalism and Pinkwashing conference, my colleague J. Kehaulani Kauanui and I planned a roundtable that intended to join Native Americans, Native Pacific Islanders, Palestinians in North America, and critical white settlers. We hoped to create a space to discuss our struggles and potential solidarity when we confront homonationalism, pinkwashing, and settler colonialism. The conference organizers decided not to accept panel or roundtable proposals and instead built a program from individual papers. As a result, our session will not take place next week in New York City. However, the program indicates that participants will advance critiques of United States and/or Canadian settler colonialism throughout the event. I offer this essay to invoke what our roundtable intended to invite: generative dialogues and their potential for productive comparison, material connections, and linked struggles for decolonization and solidarity.
When queer Palestinians challenge Israeli claims to sexual modernity and international solidarity with Israel, they demand the decolonization of Palestine and the refocusing of queer / trans solidarity on that goal. Prior to the international circulation of this critique, queer / trans politics in Europe, North America and the Pacific already confronted a variety of anti-colonial critiques. But in Canada and the United States, a specific critique of settler colonialism often remained absent, despite Two-Spirit and queer / trans Indigenous activists demanding one for over forty years. Today, the critique of settler colonialism may be more familiar to queer / trans non-Natives in these states, but it still can be ignored, or when it is acknowledged it may appear without any evident relationship to landed Indigenous decolonization struggles. For these reasons, Indigenous critics of queer / trans settler colonialism in the Americas and Pacific and their allies have been invigorated by queer Palestinian and allied critiques of similar power relations in Palestine and by the potential synergy of their work.
Palestinians who critically theorize settler colonialism while engaging in Indigenous solidarity have also inspired alliances. Omar Jabary Salamanca, Mezna Qato, Kareem Rabie, and Sobhi Samour’s co-edited issue of Settler Colonial Studies calls for the interrogation of Israel as a settler-colonial state by comparing it to European settler projects worldwide. They apply new theories of settler colonialism, such as Patrick Wolfe’s claim that agents of settler colonialism mean not just to occupy or to subjugate, but to eliminate its targets by replacing them with newly-“indigenized” settlers. In the same issue, Waziyatawin suggests that even if Palestinians and Native Americans affirm shared indigenous identity, it is their structural locations under settler-colonial rule that ground their comparison and alliance. Mike Krebs and Dana Olwan recently examined how Palestinians in Canada engage with Indigenous activists by comparatively theorizing their experiences of settler colonialism and their work for decolonization. Such intentions informed the December 2012 statement of “Palestinian Solidarity with Idle No More,” launched in Vancouver by Khaled Barakat of Samidoun, Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network. The statement argues that based on the “deep connections and similarities between the experiences of our peoples” and on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support for Israeli apartheid, struggles against colonialism in Canada and Palestine must interlink.
Potential alliances of Palestinians with Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Pacific also inform critiques of homonationalism and pinkwashing. For generations, queer / trans non-Natives in Canada and the United States have been called upon to challenge colonialism by Two-Spirit and queer / trans Indigenous activists: from Gay American Indians in 1975, to WeWah and BarCheeAmpe in 1992, to the Native Youth Sexual Health Network today. While nurturing Two-Spirit resurgence they created formidable theories of sexualization and colonial power. Indigenous and allied writers in such texts as Sexuality, Nationality, Indigeneity (2010) and Queer Indigenous Studies (2011) answered this legacy and directed queer / trans theories and politics to engage Indigenous decolonization. My contributions to these works call upon non-Natives to recognize homonationalism as settler colonialism, to challenge projections of queer / trans freedom into settler-colonial futures, and to ground our politics in decolonization and Indigenous solidarity. These texts appeared just as the international profile of pinkwatching increased, and their potential connections have informed ongoing discussions among activists and scholars. How is homonationalism conditioned by settler colonialism, and how do varied forms of pinkwashing obscure settler rule in Israel, Canada, and the United States? In each of these states, are homonationalism and pinkwashing settler-colonial phenomena that perform distinctly settler-colonial work?
Inspired by solidarity, these comparisons also invoke the power that inflects alliance. Increasingly, scholars and activists understand that critiques of Israel launched from the United States or Canada risk reinforcing settler colonialism on these lands unless they address the coloniality of each state. Writing as a non-Jew who is responsible for challenging anti-Semitism, I address this concern first to all who are positioned in the United States or Canada as white settlers, non-Jewish and Jewish. Across our differences, we can ask when and how we inherit the representative authority of a white settler state. Such states use multiculturalism to fold racialized people into a settler nation: a process challenged by Harsha Walia, Beenash Jafri, and Shaista Patel who address how racialized people become linked to settler colonialism and must become responsible to Indigenous decolonization. Yet white supremacy positions racialized non-Natives distinctly from white settlers, who need to interrogate our divergent relationships to white supremacy and settlement as Jews or non-Jews who remain linked to settler whiteness. White pinkwatchers in the United States and Canada can ask how racial investments in settlement may inflect our work for Palestinian solidarity. If white people critique Israel but do not recognize Israel to be settler-colonial, does this reflect our desire to naturalize settler colonialism “at home”? If we do critique Israel as a settler state, but do not link that critique back to where we live, does this mean that we fear unsettling the grounds that helped form and launch our critique? If we urgently challenge Israel’s settler colonization of Palestine on the premise that it may yet be undone, do we imply that settler colonialism in the Americas and Pacific is permanent and insurmountable: a normative settler story that absolves one of needing to act to end it? I ask these questions to link our self-reflections to a question that Palestinians and other racialized non-Natives in the United States or Canada also ask: how can activists in these states work for Palestinian decolonization without being responsible to the decolonial struggles of Indigenous peoples on whose lands this work takes place?
Idle No More raises the stakes for solidarity against settler colonialism as Indigenous peoples in North America once again place settler sovereignty in question. Four months ago, in response to Canadian Bill C-45 threatening to expropriate traditional lands, four Saskatchewan women activists tweeted “#IdleNoMore” and energized Indigenous people in a grassroots movement to restore Indigenous governance—as Taiaiake Alfred and Tobold Rollo explain in their pamphlet for the movement. Idle No More also tells non-Natives to reject their “idle” conformity to colonialism. In response, white people are interrogating our inheritance of white settler rule; racialized people are rejecting the idea that multicultural citizenship resolves anti-racist and migrant struggles; and dialogues are growing about how all can challenge settler rule and become responsible to Indigenous governance. Palestinians in Canada and internationally quickly responded, as noted, using the tactics that Krebs and Olwan named: accounting for their occupation of Indigenous land, joining Indigenous people in explaining settler colonialism, and framing Palestinian solidarity as allying anti-colonial struggles in North America and beyond.
As we continue gathering to address pinkwashing and homonationalism, we can answer current struggles with the inspiration of activist histories. In 1990, New York City’s WeWah and BarCheeAmpe co-founded the city’s first queer / trans of color coalition, The Cairos Collective (progenitor of Audre Lorde Project) and Two-Spirit activists led Cairos in protesting the 1992 Columbus Quincentennial and jointly critiquing racism and settler colonialism. Their work displaced queer exceptionalism by centering the critique of white-supremacist settler colonialism in linked struggles. Critics of pinkwashing and homonationalism today also can confront white-supremacist settler colonialism as a set of landed, affective, and relational practices that inform how we think and live. Those practices can be challenged by returning to the fraught space of alliance and there imagining and practicing interlinked work for decolonization.
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