Last night I took a flight with easyJet and almost vomited when I saw a feature about Tel Aviv in the airline’s magazine Traveller. “Liberal and hedonistic, Tel Aviv has ambitions to be the world’s gayest destination,” I was told.
Stretched out over six pages, the piece was replete with propaganda. The Tel Aviv municipality was praised for funding a gay community centre, annual Gay Pride events and a gay film festival. This puts the city “streets ahead of London”, moist-eyed journalist Jamie Hakin wrote, as it “turns out Tel Aviv doesn’t simply tolerate its gay scene and associated tourism, it actively courts it.”
I carefully read the piece but did not see the word “Palestinian” appear even once. The only attempt to deal with the politics of the region was via a quote from the Israeli movie director Eytan Fox: “There are some people who claim the [Israeli] government is using the gay community a little like a fig leaf, to say, ‘Look how accepting of minorities we are.’ But as a guy who has been working most of his life to promote gay issues through my films, we can’t avoid the fact that, thanks to a lot of people, Israel has changed in ways that are amazing. It used to be a very macho culture that could never accept gay people.”
“Pinkwashing” apartheid is among the activities undertaken as part of the Brand Israel initiative sponsored by the country’s foreign ministry. As part of this public relations blitz, the Israeli government has financed events like “Out in Israel” – held in San Francisco last year – which promote the country as a haven for homosexuals. This capitalizes on the work of Zionist groups like StandWithUs, which has produced flyers bragging how “Israel has no laws against sodomy, and its constitution guarantees equal rights.”
Like most propaganda, this is dishonest. For a start, Israel does not have a written constitution and its quasi-constitutional laws do not guarantee equal rights; they facilitate systematic discrimination against the Palestinians who comprise one-fifth of Israel’s population. Furthermore, the idea that Israel has banished homophobia is not supported by empirical evidence. A recent survey of gay members of the Israeli military found that 40 percent of respondents suffered verbal abuse and 20 percent sexual or physical violence.
Why is easyJet enabling Israeli propaganda? For commercial reasons, of course. The budget airline has been pushing for a new agreement to liberalize aviation between the European Union and Israel. By opening up the market to greater cooperation, easyJet should be able to fly from Tel Aviv to more European cities than it does at the moment, Hugh Aitken, a representative of the firm, has said, according to the Israeli business publication The Marker.
Protest at obscenity
Many gay rights activists have opposed Brand Israeli, it should be emphasized. In 2009, the Toronto-based group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid issued a statement against leisure tourism in Tel Aviv. The following year, an Israeli float was prevented from taking part in Madrid’s Gay Pride parade to register the organisers’ outrage at the murderous attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
It is obscene for easyJet to be selling Tel Aviv as a gay paradise, when Israel denies elementary rights to gay and straight Palestinians alike. The current issue of Traveller gives an email address — carolyn@easyJet.com — for contacting Carolyn McCall, the firm’s chief executive. Please write to her and complain about how easyJet is sugar-coating apartheid.