100-Plus LGBTQ Filmmakers to Boycott Israeli Festival (Exclusive)

Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Tel Aviv

The group has signed a pledge not to participate in Tel Aviv's TLVFest in "solidarity" with LGBTQIA+ Palestinians.

A group of more than 130 names from the film world, including at least 100 LGBTQIA+ filmmakers and film artists, have signed a pledge to boycott TLVFest, Tel Aviv's government-sponsored LGBT film festival, in what they say is solidarity with Palestinian members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The pledge was organized by Palestinian queer organizations and PACBI, the academic and cultural arm of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, a pro-Palestinian activist group that seeks to cut, among other things, global cultural ties with Israel in protest of the country's treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.

Among the signatories are Turner Prize winner Charlotte Prodger, Palme d'Or nominee Alain Guiraudie, award-winning Indian documentary filmmaker Harjant Gill, U.K.-based Touch of Pink director Ian Iqbal Rashid, Portuguese director and screenwriter Raquel Freire, Tribeca Nelson Mandela Award winner Thomas Allen Harris, acclaimed scholar, AIDS historian and screenwriter Sarah Schulman, award winning Canadian director John Greyson and Governor General Award winner Adrian Stimson, Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky of Public Studio, award-winning video artist Richard Fung, America in Transition director Andre Perez, Catherine Gund of Aubin Pictures, and Adelina Anthony and Marisa Becerra of Latinx production company AdeRisa.

Film scholars Alexandra Juhasz, Thomas Waugh, Alisa Lebow, Marc Siegel, Shohini Ghosh, So Mayer, Ingrid Ryberg and Michele Aaron have also signed the pledge.

Now onto its 15th edition having launched in 2006, the TLVFest takes place at each June at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The festival offers public screenings of films with no Israeli distribution, alongside meetings with local as well as foreign filmmakers, panel discussions and special events.

According to the signatories, LGBTQIA+ liberation "is intimately connected to the liberation of all oppressed peoples and communities" and commits "not to submit films or otherwise participate in TLVFest or other events partially or fully sponsored by complicit Israeli institutions until Israel complies with international law and respects Palestinian human rights."

Now onto its 15th edition, the 2020 TLVFest is due to take place June 4-13. According to the campaigners, there have been decade-long efforts to engage with the the festival, but it continues to maintain a partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Culture. As such, they claim that the TLVFest is being used as part of "pinkwashing efforts," using LGBTQIA+ rights to "project a progressive image while denying the rights of all Palestinians, queer and non queer alike."

The pledge, claims PACBI, marks a "new, proactive stand by queer film artists in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and dignity."

In response, the founder and artistic director of TLVFest Yair Hochner strongly urged the filmmakers to reconsider the boycott.

“We understand that the filmmakers who declared they will boycott TLVFest think they are helping the Palestinians. However, they are wrong," he told THR. "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. 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."

Hochner claimed that a boycott would only "worsen this erosion of faith" and actually undermine the voice of dissent within Israel. 

"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," he added. "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."

Hochner also argued that the festival was not, as the boycott movement asserted, “pinkwashing” anything, claiming its very existence stands against the "homophobic, racist and misogynistic government of Israel, and we say that openly and proudly." 

Culture has become a growing battleground for pro-Palestinian activism. In recent years, singers Lorde and Lana Del Rey were on the receiving end of widespread praise and condemnation when they announced they pulled out of concerts in Israel, while Madonna sparked headlines at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest final in Tel Aviv when her performance featured a dancer wearing the Palestinian flag. Filmmakers including the likes of Ken Loach have long vowed to boycott any event that received funding by Israeli authorities. 

Updated 3/4/2020 with response from TLVFest