A New York professor has said the promotion of gay rights in Israel may be “blinding” people to human rights violations in Palestine through “pinkwashing”.

In an Op-Ed Sarah Schulman wrote for the New York Times, she said gay people were being co-opted by “anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim” forces around the world, calling it a “nefarious phenomenon”.

In Israel, she wrote, the government had sought to “reposition its global image”, spending $90m to promote Tel Aviv as a destination for gay tourists.

Schulman writes: “The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics “pinkwashing”: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.”

Schulman is a professor of humanities at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

She cites the gay porn producer Michael Lucas, whom she incorrectly identified as Israeli, and his film Men of Israel, shot “on the site of a former Palestinian village”, as an example.

In an open letter to the New York Times, Lucas responded: “Tel Tzova, where some of “Men of Israel” was shot, has historical importance for Jews as well as Palestinians—it was a pressure point of pre-Israeli resistance to the British—and has been an Israeli kibbutz for more than 60 years now. (It was chosen for its scenic qualities, not as a statement.)

“More important: The idea that Israel’s gay-friendly policies are part of a ‘deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights’ is both ludicrous and offensive.

“The two issues have nothing to do with each other; it’s like saying that New York legalized gay marriage to divert attention from Wall Street’s banking scandals or the war in Iraq.”

Schulman continues in her article to say Israel’s pro-gay stance “manipulates the hard-won gains of Israel’s gay community”, and “ignores the existence of Palestinian gay-rights organizations”.

Gay rights in the republic are considered the most advanced in the Middle East. Although there are no state-sanctioned provisions for gay marriages, common law marriage applies equally to same-sex couples and gay marriages entered into overseas are recognised.

Schulman argues that the the “emotional legacy of homophobia” makes the LGBT community “susceptible to pinkwashing”, and prone to putting too much emphasis on a country’s gay rights record when judging it.

Realisation of “some rights for gays”, she says, should not “blind” people to the fight against racism globally, or, regarding Israel, the “Palestinians’ insistence on a land to call home”.

In his letter, Lucas concludes: “Schulman’s paranoia about ‘pinkwashing’ not only plays into a long and dangerous history of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory but also minimizes Israel’s substantial commitment to gay rights, which goes back many years and puts America’s to shame.”