Over 100 LGBT Filmmakers Abroad Call for Boycott of Tel Aviv LGBTQI Film Festival
Haaretz is reporting that more than 100 LGBT filmmakers abroad have signed a petition calling for a boycott of the annual LGBT film festival in Tel Aviv, TLVFest, out of solidarity with the struggle by the Palestinian queer community. What a great irony as so many Palestinian queers hide out in Israel, utilizing the LGBTQI Israeli organizations and community, who unconditionally oblige, in their quest for safety from authorities and their own families! How do I know this? Through the requests for exile I receive at African HRC from Palestinian LGBTI individuals whose safety and safe shelter plans tend to include Israel and Israeli hosts. So why attack Israel’s LGBTQI community dear filmmakers?
These attacks against Israel’s LGBTQI community are nothing new.
The 2019 festival screened UNSETTLED, a film by Tom Shepard, and one that I participate in, received the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Tel Aviv Film Festival. The film reflects depicts LGBTQI asylum seekers from Africa, as well as an asylum seeker from Syria, with several of us Jews helming the work. Our work is unconditional. We work with asylum seekers and refugees regardless of religion or country. To have filmmakers want to boycott any LGBTQI venue, more especially from within Israel, is insidious as it serves nothing more than to shut down the voices of allies, with such being oppressive in and of itself.
According to Haaretz, the petition was launched by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, an arm of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and in cooperation with Palestinian LGBT organizations.
The signatories include the British filmmaker Charlotte Prodger, winner of the Turner Prize for visual artists, and the French director Alain Guiraudie, who directed the film “Stranger by the Lake,” which won acclaim in Israel. Also onboard is the award-winning Indian documentary director Harjant Gill, as well as the AIDS historian Sarah Schulman.
According the petition, the filmmakers oppose the festival because it is supported by Israeli public funding. They call on filmmakers around the world not to submit their work to it, saying they will continue their opposition until Israel respects international law and basic human rights for the Palestinians.
The festival, scheduled to take place from July 4 to July 13, receives support from the Tel Aviv municipality and the Culture and Sports Ministry.
The festival’s founder and artistic director, Yair Hochner, told Haaretz that calls to boycott the festival by queer artists abroad is nothing new and preparations for the event are moving ahead.
TLVFest added in a statement:
“We know that artists who call for a boycott of the gay film festival in Tel Aviv think they are helping the Palestinians but they are mistaken. Today it’s more important than ever that the international community support voices that oppose the Israeli establishment, especially after Likud’s achievement in the election this week.”
In Haaretz, Hochner is noted as saying that “calls for a cultural boycott only intensify many Israelis’ feelings that dialogue with the Palestinians is impossible.”
“While we don’t pretend to tell our Palestinian neighbors how to conduct nonviolent national campaigns, we ask that it be made clear to them that a call for a boycott is a mistake,” he said. “Harm to the festival and the artists who choose to take part will only paralyze the voices of optimism in Israel.”
TLVFest, which was founded in 2006, is Israel’s largest LGBT film festival. It has made headlines for its screening of political and pro-Palestinian films.
For example, in 2016 it showed the film “Oriented” about gay Palestinians living in Tel Aviv. The following year it showed “The Wound,” whose director said he would not attend the festival’s opening because of his support for BDS. For its part, the government called for a boycott of the festival, which it called a BDS supporter.
Regarding allegations of “pinkwashing” the occupation, Hochner said: “The festival comes out strongly against homophobia, racism and the misogyny of the Israeli government, and we state this loudly and proudly. We will also continue to collaborate with queer Palestinian filmmakers who want to continue working together to build a better and more tolerant society – in both Israel and Palestine.”
Yair Hochner, Founder and Artistic Director of TLVFest – Israel’s largest LGBTQ Film Festival – today strongly urged more than 100 LGBTQ Filmmakers, who reportedly intend to boycott the festival, to reconsider. He said: “We understand that the filmmakers who declared they will boycott TLVFest think they are helping the Palestinians. However, they are wrong. It is more important than ever that the international community continue to support dissenting voices in Israel in favour of human rights and equality, especially following the re-election of the Likud governing party last night. They must understand that the Likud party – which opposes the festival, called for its boycott, and works against it – gained in strength due to the erosion in belief among most Israelis that there can be a better future for Israel with the Palestinians. A boycott will only worsen this erosion of faith and inadvertently undermine those voices of resistance that still exist in Israel”.
Mr. Hochner added: “While we do not presume to tell our Palestinians neighbors how to run their nonviolent national campaigns, we appeal to them to recognize that this boycott would be a mistake. Harming our festival and the filmmakers who do participate in it would instead support the silencing of dissident voices in Israel. So far, the Israeli law and courts have forced the government to support the festival financially, despite government efforts to withdraw funding. Ironically, the government and the Ministry of Culture attack us as “BDS supporters”, while the BDS movement and the filmmakers who intend to boycott would actually help the government end our efforts to create positive change in Israeli society, making the situation even worse”.
TLVFest – A history of dissent beyond Tel Aviv and LGBTQ culture
The festival, based at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, is open to all types of audiences, not only to members of the LGBTQ community. The festival is also increasingly active outside Tel Aviv, and is especially proud to be bringing LGBTQ culture and cinema across the country, provoking thought, tearing down walls, and building bridges between different cultures. TLVFest events now take place in a large number of smaller towns and villages like Sderot (next to Gaza), Beer Sheva, Haifa, Jerusalem, Kibbutz Mizra, Rosh Pina, the Jordan Valley, Nes Tziona, Pardes Hanna, Karkur, and every year more and more communities ask us to come. In these events, we promote human rights, freedom of expression and encourage political dissent. This is our way of working for change.
As a result, in 2018 the Ministry of Culture illegally refused to support us financially, but through crowdfunding we were able to raise more than 200,000 NIS – roughly a third of our budget – to save the festival. The Likud party has itself already called twice for boycotting TLVFest. First in 2016, when we opened the festival with the documentary “Oriented” about Gay Palestinians who live in Tel Aviv, bringing their story and voices to the big screen. Second in 2017, when we opened the festival with the movie “The Wound” whose filmmaker a few days before the screening decided to join the BDS boycott, although he was already in the country. Since the producer was against the boycott and we had already paid huge amount ofscreening fee and the event was sold out – we decided to go ahead and open the festival with that movie. The Likud party called for boycotting TLVFest because we showed a film by a filmmaker who supported the BDS movement. This absurd situation in which both the BDS movement and the right wing governing party in Israel join in boycotting TLVFest is sadly being played out again today.
We are proud that the people who come from all over the country don’t boycott us, and those Palestinians who come from the occupied territories to see the films they can’t see in their own cities don’t boycott us.
Let me also state very clearly that TLVFest is not “pinkwashing” anything. The very existence of TLVFest stands against the Homophobic, racist and misogynistic government of Israel, and we say that openly and proudly. We will also continue to collaborate with queer Palestinian filmmakers who are interested in coexisting peacefully and building a much more tolerant and inclusive Middle East, both for Israelis and Palestinians.
We call on everyone not to cooperate with the Israeli government and the BDS movement, since in their opposition to TLVFest they are, unfortunately, two sides of the same coin. Neither will is leading to peace and dialogue. To our fellow LGBT film-makers, let me ask you to reconsider, please ignore the call to boycott and come to TLVFest to support the important work we are doing to help move our country toward a brighter future.
By Melanie Nathan
Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Check out my Instagram: Commissionermelnathan
Refugee / Asylum Advocacy:www.africanHRC.org