The “Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival,” also referred to as “TLVFest,” received attention this week, as several international artists canceled their participation in the event in support of Palestinian human rights. The festival is sponsored by the Israeli ministry of culture, symbolizing the Zionist regime’s attempts to mask its genocidal policies against Palestinians through an alleged promotion of LGBT+ rights. This manipulative process, widely known as pinkwashing, has increasingly failed.
So far, nine participants have pulled out of this years’s event, which is taking place from May 31 to June 9. As in previous years, Palestinian queers and their allies called for a boycott of the event. Already in 2017, several participants boycotted the fest, causing considerable damage to its public image.
This year, artists explicitly expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people and voiced opposition to the Zionist regime’s policies, including the practice of pinkwashing itself. For example, French filmmaker Océane Michel declared via Facebook her “total disaccord with the Israel’s politics towards Palestinians,” stating that she “refuses to participate in the politics of pinkwashing designed by the Israeli government.”
Such statements are necessary interventions into Zionism’s pinkwashing, and important starting points for discussions on Palestinian LGBT+ rights.
The Zionist regime’s pinkwashing propagates the Orientalist fantasy of Israel being the “only democracy” in the Middle East and an oasis of LGBT+ equality in an allegedly inherently homophobic region. In that context, LGBT+ Palestinians are portrayed as victims of Palestinian culture, and Arabs more generally as suffering under oppressive regimes, as juxtaposed with Israel as an alleged outpost of Western Liberalism in the Middle East.
However, this rationale is rarely based on Israel’s actual record of LGBT+ rights (which is far from perfect), but on racist myths about the alleged regressiveness of non-Jewish populations in the region.
Israel only appears as a safe haven for Arab LGBT+ individuals, as long as they adopt Zionism and submit to Israel’s ethnocracy. As Kowther Qashou wrote for Muftah, “Palestinian queerness is acceptable insofar as it fits within the Israeli LGBTQ framework, which forsakes a Palestinian identity for a politically acceptable gay Israeli identity.” Pinkwashing then entails the ultimate exclusion of all Palestinians and Arabs, regardless of their sexual orientation and identity.
This strategy not only conceals state violence against Palestinians. Even more, it romanticizes genocidal acts by portraying the militarized Zionist state apparatus as gay-friendly and acting in the name of Liberalism. This has become evident in the state-organized pride parades in Tel Aviv and occupied Jerusalem, which motivate LGBT+ populations to celebrate Zionism’s alleged inclusiveness and progressiveness on ethnically cleansed land. Such events also attract tourists and bring economic benefit to the government.
In times of internationally visible daily massacres against Palestinians and state-sponsored executions of civilians, the Zionist regime is exploiting any opportunity for much needed propaganda. TLVFest is one such occasion. However, there has been significant queer and non-queer organizing against pinkwashing, based on the recognition that Zionism’s genocidal policies target all Palestinians, regardless of their sexual orientation.