Filmmakers boycott Israel’s pinkwashing TLVFest

Screen capture of the partners page on festival website

Screenshot of the TLVFest website on 2 November shows Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs listed as a major sponsor of the government-backed Tel Aviv International LGBTQ Film Festival. (Screenshot via PACBI)

More than a dozen filmmakers have heeded the Palestinian call to boycott TLVFest, the government-backed Tel Aviv International LGBTQ Film Festival.

Six of the filmmakers also joined 170 other artists from around the globe who signed a pledge launched earlier this year to boycott the festival.

TLVFest, taking place this month, has tightened its embrace of the far-right Israeli government this year, specifically the ministry of strategic affairs.

The ministry is the lead agency in Israel’s global effort to smear and sabotage the Palestinian rights movement around the world.

TLVFest is a cornerstone of Israel’s propaganda strategy known as pinkwashing.

This deploys Israel’s supposed enlightenment toward LGBTQ issues to deflect criticism from its human rights abuses and war crimes against Palestinians.

Pinkwashing also aims to falsely present Tel Aviv as a safe place for Palestinians who seek same-sex relationships, while exaggerating or lying about dangers they face in their own society.

The strategy is typically aimed at Western liberal audiences.

Ministry sponsorship

The multi-million-dollar strategic affairs ministry is one of the festival’s main sponsors.

Staffed by officers from Israel’s spy agencies, it wages a global war against BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

As the first filmmakers started to withdraw, TLVFest tried to hide its partnership with the ministry by obscuring its logo on the festival website.

“It first replaced the English version of the ministry’s logo with a Hebrew version, then removed it altogether only to replace it again with a non-branded logo,” the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said.

But the ministry’s support for the festival is ongoing, despite the effort to conceal it.

The ministry is, for example, still uploading video teasers of the festival on its YouTube channel.

Partnerships

Several European governments are also sponsoring the festival.

European embassies often participate in Israel’s other major pinkwashing event, Tel Aviv’s annual pride parade.

TLVFest also partners with Creative Community for Peace, a front group for the far-right Israel lobby organization StandWithUs.

Its aim is to undermine Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS, especially among those who identify as LGBTQ.

In an email seen by The Electronic Intifada, Creative Community for Peace thanks filmmakers who remained in the festival.

The group’s director, Ari Ingel, alleges that the BDS movement is “spreading lies about us.”

“I can assure you we are not aligned with any of those organizations they mention,” Ingel added, without naming the organizations he was referring to.

“We are more than happy to chat and answer any questions you may have,” Ingel told the artists.

That friendly attitude is not being shown to artists who withdrew from the festival, however.

TLVFest organizers have refused to honor the requests of seven filmmakers who asked to have their films withdrawn.

Ingel’s email mentions that one film the festival is screening is The Polygraph, made by Samira Saraya, a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

This is not Saraya’s first time participating in TLVFest and other Israeli film festivals.

Saraya describes herself as “a Palestinian-Israeli who lives in a place that denies my existence, and an Arab lesbian woman in a conservative, homophobic society.”

Saraya contributes to Israel’s false narrative that Palestinian society is uniquely intolerant of LGBTQ or same-sex relations in a way that Israeli society is not.

Outside supposedly liberal Tel Aviv, much of Israeli Jewish society considers homosexuality taboo. It is also condemned by senior Israeli rabbis.

Israel’s LGBTQ community has also been a target of violent attacks.

In 2014, reservists from Israel’s notorious surveillance military Unit 8200 admitted to using the most intimate private data of Palestinians, including information on their sexual activities, to blackmail them into becoming informers on acquaintances and family members Israel is after.

It is also notable that the vast majority of Palestinians and Arabs who engage in same-sex relations do not identify according to the Euro-American homosexual-heterosexual binary, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has extensively written.

In addition, same-sex sexual relations are not illegal under Palestinian law.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.