Tel Aviv is the world’s gayest apartheid travel destination

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai at the party celebrating Tel Aviv’s win as best gay travel destination of 2011.

Yael Zur Tel Aviv Global City

Tel Aviv is the world’s best gay travel destination according to a survey by the travel web site and American Airlines. This marketing coup was celebrated by the Government Press Office, various consulates and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it was reported in all the major Israeli newspapers.

It is a remarkable success. Forty-three percent of people who participated in the online survey selected Tel Aviv while New York City came in second with only 14 percent. The world’s gayest apartheid travel destination does have something to prove. As early as 22 December, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai was telling his Twitter followers about the contest.

Pro-Israel activists had also been promoting the contest on social media.
Tel Aviv is promoted to international gay markets as an extra-Israeli locale, thanks to marketing efforts like Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, which was of course thrilled with the “survey” results.

Shai Doitsh, brand manager of the Tel Aviv Gay Vibe tourism campaign, told Ynet shortly after learning of the results: “This makes us very proud.

“This is the peak of six years of activity and further proof that the decision made by the Tourism Ministry and Tel Aviv Municipality to invest in gay tourism and put their faith in the program we built was the right decision.

Promoting gay Tel Aviv with violence, orientalism

One promoter caught my eye – Arisa Party, a Tel Aviv club that bills itself as “the world’s first gay Middle-Eastern party.” Arisa has become more involved in Israeli state hasbara and pinkwashing, and its promotional material relies on orientalist, violent drag performance for humor.

I first learned about Arisa Party from a video where Israeli gay club celebrity Uriel Yekutiel perform Nivin’s “Ma Asita Li” a hebraized version of the Arabic song “Ya ma sawa” composed by the Rahbani Brothers and made famous by Georgette Sayegh.

The video depicts Israeli model Eliad Cohen brutally beating Yekutiel who appears as a feminized Arab as a feminized orientalist caricature (see comments from DL), and this violence is meant to amuse. It’s not the only video that features abuse and violence. In another video for Eilat Pride 2011, Yekutiel announces his departure to Eilat but when the flight is cancelled, Cohen turns violent and cruel.

The Arisa Party is an official hasbara vehicle for the State of Israel

In November, the Arisa Party visited Brazil to participate in the 19th Annual Mix Brazil Festival of Sexual Diversity, sponsored by the Consulate-General of Israel in São Paulo (their logo and name can be seen at 1 minute 40 seconds in the video).

Lingering debris of pinkwashing

What’s notable about all of this is that the imagery rather than being liberatory reinforces masculine, orientalist and violent stereotypes. Moreover Israel’s official promotion of Tel Aviv as a “gay destination” focuses exclusively on men. Women are totally absent. This may reflect a reality that the international gay travel industry which Tel Aviv wants to cash in on mirrors other tourism that caters exclusively to male consumers’ sexual fantasies.

Israel’s strategy of pinkwashing – using its supposed support for gay rights to deflect criticism of its violence and oppression against Palestinians – was recently outed in The New York Times, so niche market appeals for tourism may just inspire more calls for boycott.




"The video depicts Israeli model Eliad Cohen brutally beating Yekutiel who appears as a feminized Arab, and this violence is meant to amuse."

Not so sure. When I first saw this a couple of months back, I interpreted it as playing on a rather prevalent stereotype in Israeli society, namely the association of Mizrahi men with domestic violence and, in turn, Mizrahi women with being willing/loving recipients of a beating. Given the lyrics of the song and the fact that most Israelis would immediately notice the 'Mizrahi' style of the music (i.e. a lot of Mizrahi music is based on popular Arabic music), this seems more plausible to me.

Either way, essentialising/orientalising, violent and not very nice.


The statement is accurate. Mizrahi Jews are Arabs, and the violent stereotype is orientalism.


For sure, I see the overall Orientalist thrust in what's being represented whichever line of interpretation one takes. However, saying "Mizrahi Jews are Arabs" is in itself an essentialising statement. Mizrahi is a rather broad umbrella term referring to a variety of so-called 'Eastern' Jewish others, which include ethnically/culturally Arab as well as Persian, Turkic, Berber, Kurdish, Indian, etc. With that in mind, and the context of it being a drag act, the term 'feminized Arab' seems to require a bit more clarification.


Thanks for correcting me, and you’re right. I used the term “feminized Arab” because I inappropriately conflated the song’s Arabic origin, the re-writing of it in Hebrew, and the drag performance.


And, if you read Hebrew, here's a pretty interesting article on this subject of Arisa and the interaction between sexual politics and Mizrahi identity:


You're not going to get gay people on side with the headline "Tel Aviv is the world’s gayest apartheid travel destination".

The way it's phrased sounds very derogatory to gay people to me as "gay" has been used in Western media in certain contexts to mean vile/dire/awful. There have been complaints to the BBC about some of its presenters using it in such a context.

I'd recommend rephrasing the title if you want to avoid annoying gay people - many of whom support Palestinian rights.


Patrick, please read the story again and ask yourself if maybe you're missing something?

"Gay" is the new celebrated value of the overclass and it's lately being used as a weapon to beat oppressed people with.

The point of the headline is that institutionalized Israeli racism can not be cleansed by the embrace of "Gay" culture.


While I do appreciate the author's correcting his error, the error was the basis for the entire article. There is in fact no victimizing of an Arab. The parody is strictly Israeli. If you are unable to make basic cultural differentiations it is probably best not to write about the subject.