Artists ditch Israel’s pinkwashing film festival

Activists are appealing to filmmakers and artists to boycott this year’s TLVFest. (Pinkwatching Israel via Twitter)

A group of filmmakers, artists and presenters have canceled their scheduled appearances at TLVFest, Israel’s premier LGBTQ film festival in Tel Aviv, following appeals by queer Palestinian activists and boycott supporters to withdraw.

The high-profile cancellations in support of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement prompted The Jerusalem Post to admit that while the festival “has been around for more than a decade, it has never faced a campaign this successful against it.”

Last week, award-winning South African film director John Trengove withdrew from the festival, which will begin on 1 June. He requested that his film, The Wound (Inxeba), not be screened.

“With the pain of the apartheid struggle still fresh in our collective consciousness, the issue is, as you can imagine, a very sensitive one for many South Africans,” Trengove wrote in a letter to the film festival’s organizers​.​

He added that he had been contacted by activists with BDS South Africa, who he said underscored the issue of pinkwashing – the public relations strategy that deploys Israel’s supposed enlightenment toward LGBTQ issues to deflect criticism from its human rights abuses and war crimes and as a means to build up support for Israel among Western liberals and progressives.

“While I appreciate that the organizers ​of TLVFest ​may be well intentioned and progressive, it is impossible to look past the fact that the festival (and my participation in it) could serve as a diversion from the human rights violations being committed by the state of Israel,” the filmmaker wrote.

Activists explained to Trengove that Israel’s minister of culture, Miri Regev, would be attending the festival.

In 2012, Regev called African migrants “a cancer” on the state of Israel, later apologizing to cancer victims for comparing them to Africans.

The Israeli culture ministry is one of the major sponsors of the festival. Under the guidelines from the BDS movement, any public event “carried out under the sponsorship/aegis of or in affiliation with an official Israeli body or a complicit institution constitutes complicity and therefore is deserving of boycott.”

“We cannot support this”

Catherine Gund, a filmmaker and organizer, also canceled her appearance, as did her co-director Daresha Kyi and their entire production team, campaigners say.

“TLVFest is being supported by government entities in Israel that are deeply complicit in violations of international law which include ongoing wars, repression of Palestinians and occupation of Palestinian lands,” Gund and Kyi wrote to festival organizers.

“[C]ultural events, such as this festival, aim to cover up these violations,” they added. “On a personal and political level, we cannot support this. Our film, which sets forth a vision of peace and freedom, should not be at an Israeli-government funded cultural event. We stand in solidarity with the boycott.”

Along with Trengove, Gund and Kyi, screenwriter, comedian and actor Fawzia Mirza, Swiss actor Jasna Fritzi Bauer, jury panelist Nadia Abraham and writer, director and actor Helene Hegemann have all pulled out of the festival.

As a result, campaigners say, the entire line-up for a panel on women in cinema has been removed from the festival’s website.

“As Palestinian queer activists, we warmly welcome the support of principled artists like John Trengove, Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, who refuse to let their art cover up and ‘pinkwash’ grave Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” Haneen Maikey, director of the Palestinian LGBTQ group Al Qaws, stated.

“No business as usual”

Hind Awwad of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) told The Electronic Intifada that the wave of cancellations “speaks to the growing sentiment of ‘no business as usual’ with Israel and its complicit institutions, until Israel respects Palestinians’ full rights.”

“It is also adds to numerous earlier examples of the failure of Israel’s whitewashing, pinkwashing and all other colors of washing that aim to cover up Israel’s occupation and apartheid,” she said.

Awwad said campaigners are inspired by artists who have “refused to lend their good name to perpetrating human rights abuses.”

Meanwhile, the British band Radiohead continues to ignore mounting pressure by Palestinians and international campaigners to cancel their July performance in Tel Aviv.

Awwad said it is difficult to understand why the band’s progressive politics “fall short when it comes to Palestinian rights.”

But she says campaigners still hope that Radiohead will heed the calls by Palestinians, thousands of fans, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, filmmaker Ken Loach, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and tens of renowned artists who have all appealed to the band to “Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”

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Israel doesn't discriminate when it comes to gay people- that's been the hasbara message for years. Well, in a peculiar way, it's true. The IDF doesn't discriminate when they apply their "Dahiya Doctrine" and wipe out an entire neighborhood. The Shabak interrogators don't exclude gay people from illegal detention and torture- they run a very inclusive system. In fact, every species of oppression, theft and degradation visited on straight Palestinians is also heaped on the LGBTQ Palestinian community. So it's heartening to see that fewer individuals and fewer groups abroad are falling for the racist fantasy that Israel protects the rights of gay people. Israel jails, tortures, robs and kills them. That's the message that's now getting through. And the proper response is, as ever, one of solidarity.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).