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Billy Porter, Mila Kunis, and Sharon Osbourne defend Israel’s LGBTQ film festival against the ‘bully’ boycott. Palestinian supporters say it is ‘pinkwashing’ oppression.

By November 19, 2021Article
  • TLVFest, Israel’s largest LGBTQ film festival, will take place from November 11 to 20.
  • Palestinian activists are boycotting it and accuse festival organizers of “pinkwashing.”
  • Top celebrities, including Billy Porter and Mila Kunis, signed a letter opposing the boycott.

TLVFest, also known as the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, was set up to showcase queer cinema in Israel.

From November 11 to 20, the festival will host public screenings of LGBTQ-themed movies, panels with filmmakers, and even a drag competition.

But the small film festival is at the heart of a fierce culture war.

Some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Dame Helen Mirren, Billy Porter, and Mila Kunis, say they support the cultural event. They’re among 200+ celebrities who have signed a letter condemning the “divisive rhetoric” of those who oppose it and arguing that it has the “power to bring people together.”

On the other hand, Palestinian activists say that TLVFest is part of Israel’s “pinkwashing agenda,” an alleged attempt to highlight gay rights to distract from Israel’s occupation, and are calling for it to be boycotted.

The clashes have become so heated that a rival film festival will be held in protest.

What is pinkwashing?

Palestinians will play a part in the festivities, albeit a minor one, sitting on juries and showcasing their films.

But activists, who have boycotted previous iterations of the festival in past years, say the festival, sponsored by Israeli government agencies and several international embassies, is part of Israel’s long campaign of “pinkwashing.”

According to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, pinkwashing is “an Israeli government propaganda strategy that cynically exploits LGBTQIA+ rights to project a progressive image while concealing Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies oppressing Palestinians.”

Participants hold a Palestinian flag and placards as they take part in Tel Aviv's annual Pride Parade.
Participants hold a Palestinian flag and “pinkwashing” placards as they take part in Tel Aviv’s annual Pride Parade on June 28, 2020 
JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Elias Jahshan, a gay Palestinian and social media editor at The New Arab, told Insider that the festival’s attempt at “pinkwashing” is why he supports this year’s boycott.

“The boycott would draw attention to how Israel is not the haven for LGBTQ people in the Middle East it purports to be,” he said. “Sure, it’s legal and there are lots of rights and a fair amount of equality… but that’s only on paper.”

“Palestinian citizens of Israel who happen to be LGBTQ are still subject to being treated as second-class citizens, and just because they’re queer does not make them immune to all that,” Jahshan continued.

He added that the festival organizers are trying to “gaslight” activists by suggesting that the festival is a unique opportunity for queer Palestinian filmmakers to share their stories.

“There are plenty of other festivals — and platforms — around that these filmmakers can showcase their films. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it were a queer film festival in apartheid South Africa,” Jahshan said.

A rival pro-Palestinian film festival has been launched

Promotional material for the Queer Cinema for Palestine festival
The Queer Cinema for Palestine festival is a rival to TLVFest. 
Queer Cinema for Palestine

190+ queer filmmakers are pledging not to support TLVFest, and, instead, are backing the Queer Cinema for Palestine’s festival.

Run by a group of filmmakers who “stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights,” the rival event will also occur simultaneously on November 11 to 20 across five continents. Organizers say it was borne out of TLVFest’s role in “pinkwashing Israel’s regime of military occupation and apartheid oppressing all Palestinians” and note that it came together amid violence in the region in May 2021.

It will feature more than 50 filmmakers who have pulled their films from the rival festival and describes itself as “a feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial festival that shouts YES to queer cinema and NO to Israeli Apartheid.”

However, some of Hollywood’s elite say that the boycott is an attempt to stifle peaceful cooperation.

High-profile celebrities oppose the boycott

In a letter supporting TLVFest, released by non-profit Creative Community for Peace, over 200 celebrities and filmmakers expressed their disapproval of the boycott. Signatories include Neil Patrick Harris, Dame Helen Mirren, Mila Kunis, Mayim Bialik, Billy Porter, and Gene Simmons.

“We stand united with all the participating filmmakers against the divisive rhetoric espoused by boycott activists who seek to misinform, bully and intimidate artists into removing their films from the festival or shame them for participating in the festival,” the letter says.

Neil Patrick Harris, Dame Hellen Mirren
Neil Patrick Harris and Dame Helen Mirren signed the letter objecting to the boycott of TLVFest. 
Getty Images

“We believe that anyone who works to subvert TLVFest merely adds yet another roadblock to freedom, justice, equality, and peace that we all desperately desire, especially for the LGBTQ community that is persecuted throughout the Middle East and around the world,” it continues.

One of the signatories, Los Angeles-based director Luc Bernard, told Insider that the BDS movement is “trying to silence voices” of queer people in the region. “With trans people getting killed in the MENA region for only existing, I stand with the TLVFest, the only festival in the Middle East showing LGBTQ experiences, for helping people understand their struggle,” he said.

Samira Saraya, a nonbinary Palestinian-Israeli actor and filmmaker, told Insider that they have received backlash from fellow Palestinian activists for taking part in the festival. Saraya will host TLVFest’s opening night.

“If I boycott it, who is going to hear my voice, and who is going to talk for me?” said Saraya, who describes themself as an “anti-Zionist creator,” during a phone call.

Saraya, who featured in the hit Netflix show “Fauda”(Arabic for ‘chaos’) about a group of undercover Israeli agents infiltrating the West Bank, continued:  “I want to make an impact and I cannot make an impact when I’m in my house boycotting places.”

Samira Saraya
Samira Saraya, a Palestinian-Israeli actor and filmmaker, has received backlash for hosting TLVFest’s opening night. 
Gareth Cattermole/French Select via Getty Images

The back-and-forth between defenders of the festival, and those who oppose it, is unrelenting and the source of great debate in Israeli and Palestinian LGBTQ communities.

While some Palestinians see it as an opportunity, perhaps the only one in the Middle East, to share their stories of queerness with an audience, others see it as perpetuating Israeli propaganda.

But for Saraya, who is participating in TLVFest despite their stance on the Israeli occupation, they summed up their pragmatic involvement with a famous local proverb: “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”

Ready the original article here.

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