The upcoming LGBT film festival in Tel Aviv has been hit by an unprecedented wave of cancellations, after BDS activists targeted its participants.
While TLVFest has been around for more than a decade, it has never faced a campaign this successful against it.
“I think they just did a very good job this year, the pinkwashing people, as they call themselves,” said festival director Yair Hochner. “But the most important guests are still coming, the famous ones – and that’s what is important.”
The central boycott effort appears to be spearheaded by Pinkwashing Israel, a group that claims that TLVFest “promotes the cynical use of gay rights – known as pinkwashing – to distract from and normalize Israeli occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”
Hochner said the group “contacts all the filmmakers and all our guests personally, but the majority of them didn’t care, because they know the festival and they know our message.”
Nevertheless, several participants have pulled out of the festival, citing pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists.
South African director John Trengove, whose film The Wound is set to be the festival’s opening-night production, told organizers last week that he could no longer participate.
“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,” Trengove wrote.
He apologized for the last-minute notification, and said it was not a personal attack on the festival but was “motivated by realization of what deeply personal and political convictions require of me.”
While Trengove asked the organizers to pull his film as well, they said they had already paid for the rights and would be going ahead with the screening on the film’s opening night, June 1, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Many of the participants who had second thoughts cited their concerns with the festival being partly sponsored by the government through the Culture and Sport Ministry.
Despite the shake-up, festival organizers promised “to continue to bring LGBT programming from around the world, and to continue to promote tolerance and pluralism in Israel through culture.”
The festival’s jury is made up of filmmakers and activists from around the world, including two Palestinian Israelis, Samira Saraya and Maysaloun Hamoud.
But Fawzia Mirza, a Pakistani-Canadian actress and filmmaker, who was also scheduled to be a jurist and appear on a panel, canceled her participation in the festival, citing her identity as a “Muslim queer person.”
Mirza’s film, Signature Move, which features a lesbian relationship between a Pakistani American and a Mexican American, will still be screened at the festival.
The producers of the film Chavela also requested their movie be pulled from the show, after pressure from activists. But they noted that their distribution contract would not allow them to cancel the screening.
Other filmmakers and participants were convinced by TLVFest organizers to remain in the festival, after they contacted them with concerns.
Hochner told The Jerusalem Post that while he knows many of the activists with the Pinkwashing Israel group, particularly those who live in Tel Aviv, he has no interest in engaging with them.
“Some of them are Israelis that live in Tel Aviv and... they are total hypocrites,” he said. “I know a lot of them, and I’m not going to negotiate with them or try to talk to them – just like I can’t speak with people who support the occupation or throwing Palestinians out of Israel – it’s people that you can’t talk with.”
But Hochner says the VIPs – like US actress Mink Stole, transgender model Gigi Gorgeous and some of the most prominent drag queens around, including Peaches Christ, Gloria Viagra and Sherry Vine – will still be coming.
“This is what people are really looking forward to,” he said, “and we are very happy to have them here.”
Yesh Atid MK Yael German said those calling for a boycott of the festival are proof BDS is a “racist movement motivated by hatred and incitement."
“It is inconceivable that an important global issue such as LGBT rights and the promotion of LGBT laws would become a political bullying tool for BDS,” German said.
“The gay film festival in Tel Aviv is a symbol of equality, human rights and gender tolerance, and that is precisely what the BDS movement is choosing to hurt!” Evan Cohen, the head of the Likud Pride group, said it is “ridiculous that BDS is calling to boycott the gay film festival in the only country in the Middle East that even acknowledges the LGBT community as people that shouldn’t be imprisoned, or even killed. The hideous hypocrisy of those who hate Israel knows no bounds.”
The festival is part of Tel Aviv’s Pride Week celebrations, which will be capped off by the annual Gay Pride Parade in the city on June 9.
“I hope people will come to the festival and make us stronger and support us,” Hochner said. “We really need it, especially now, especially this year, to show Pinkwashing [Israel] that they failed with their mission.”
Organizers for the festival said the BDS targeting has caused “a severe upheaval and a threat to the existence of the LGBT film festival. From the day we were established, the festival has been a platform for the culture and films of the LGBT community and has dealt with the Israeli and Palestinian experience.”