Tel Aviv is the world’s best gay travel destination according to a survey by the travel web site GayCities.com 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 , 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.