On June 1, 2017, TLVFest, the international LGBTQ film festival held in Tel Aviv, launched its program with a well-attended cocktail reception packed wall to wall with filmmakers, talent and fans excited for this year’s slate of LGBTQ-themed films.
I was honored to be there as an ambassador for A Wider Bridge (“AWB”). AWB is a North American LGBTQ organization tasked with building support for Israel and its LGBTQ community. We are engaging leaders in politics, entertainment, government and advocacy to participate in 10-day mission to experience the country (including the West Bank) through an LGBTQ lens. We build personal as opposed to political relationships with Israel and its LGBTQ community.
As a non-Jewish gay American on my first trip to Israel, I felt at home among my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, because they were celebrating films that tell our story, in our voice, for our community.
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Before we had such film festivals, LGBTQ-themed films would either never be made, or they would never get the funding or distribution necessary to bring LGBTQ stories to a wider audience. I should know — I also sit on the board of the Outshine Film Festival, the international LGBTQ film festival held in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, every year for the South Florida LGBTQ community.
Just as Outshine serves the South Florida LGBTQ community, TLVFest serves the Israeli LGBTQ community by bringing quality LGBTQ-themed content from all over the world in multiple languages that not only educate but entertain.
Make no mistake, Israeli LGBTQ are not like me — they are me. So, I felt completely at ease as a weaved in and out of the shoulder-pressed crowd.
But there was an ugly pall hanging over the festivities. Activists with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement, such as Pinkwatching Israel, have pressured participants in TLVFest to pull out — by claiming that TLVFest promotes so-called “pinkwashing.” The slanderous allegation that, at bottom, suggests that any person or organization that promotes or even acknowledges the progress of LGBTQ rights in Israel is really a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda designed to distract the world from the occupation and Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
The term is offensive, hurtful, downright wrong, and ultimately nothing more than misplaced hostility. Whatever sins the Israeli government may be accused of, those sins are not a yoke to be hitched to the LGBTQ community.
BDS and those that hate Israel are playing a zero-sum game where any achievement by Israel or any community or person in or from Israel cannot be tolerated or recognized. One need only see the reaction in Lebanon to temerity of Israeli actress Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman.
So, what should we in the LGBTQ and progressive ally communities do about this? In short, I call upon all LGBTQ organizations, all film festivals, LGBTQ-themed or otherwise, to take a stand against bullying, against censoring, and against anti-semitism by supporting, in word and deed, TLVFest.
Allowing BDS to continue its attempts to harass and bully filmmakers that want to share LGBTQ-themed films from around the world with the Israeli LGBTQ community is not only inadvisable, in my opinion it is morally unacceptable.
You cannot advocate for LGBTQ rights — except Israeli LGBTQ rights. You cannot advocate for human rights — but not Israeli human rights. And you cannot advocate for progressive values — and not stand against bald bigotry when confronted with it.
I ask you to support TLVFest, condemn the bullying of BDS, and get the word out that filmmakers bringing LGBTQ-themed films to our community should continue doing so, as they will always be welcomed to tell our stories. If you do not stand now, your festival may be the next target of the BDS movement.