Engage, Not Boycott, LGBT Israelis

Joe Goldman, public affairs pro at SF-based JCRC and LGBT activist, has previously challenged actual pinkwashing in Israel himself, but thinks that accusations of “pinkwashing” by the Israeli LGBTQ community are utterly baseless and hateful.

As a member of the board of the Jewish Film Institute (JFI), I know firsthand how art can be extraordinarily political. Freedom of expression is paramount in any flourishing democracy. This ethos promotes collaboration and mutual understanding, and is anathema to the tactics of anti-normalization that prevent people from humanizing one another. In this spirit, I’ve been deeply dismayed by the news that organizers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have successfully pressured filmmakers to cancel trips to TLVFest: The Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival. According to a report in Haaretz:

Pinkwatching Israel, which is an arm of the BDS movement, wants to promote a cultural boycott of Israel because of so-called “pinkwashing” — displaying openness toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for the purpose of concealing more serious injustices. There are several posts on the movement’s Facebook page calling on guests to refrain from attending the festival, with the claim that their participation contributes to a continued normalization of Israel and the occupation.

TLVFest celebrates LGBT content from all over the world. However, BDS activists claim that it is promoting Pinkwashing,” insinuating that recognizing the accomplishments of LGBT Israelis and their hard-fought rights is just a tool to cover up the military occupation of the West Bank. While not the first time the festival has confronted politically motivated cancellations, this is the first year that cancellations have caused significant harm.

Anti-normalization does more harm than good

Sadly, I’ve heard this story before. Frameline, which is San Francisco’s international LGBT film festival, has faced harassment and increased security costs for years because it accepts Israeli films and partners with the local Israeli consulate general. Considered to be the “crème de la crème” of LGBT film festivals, Frameline has played a groundbreaking role in ushering in an unparalleled era of LGBT content. LGBT people like me owe Frameline nothing but gratitude for its historic impact on our daily lives. That anyone would — even indirectly — accuse it of pinkwashing is astounding to me.

At JFI we have openly-LGBT leadership and have shown countless LGBT films from around the world. JFI co-owns the Ninth Street Independent Film Center with Frameline and the Center for Asian American Media. These three organizations partner together to learn from one another and, by providing subsidized creative spaces, are on the front lines assisting filmmakers who would otherwise be priced out of San Francisco. They even share a screening room to help foster greater creativity and community for all.

The media, cultural and political landscape is a world apart from when I came out in 2003. Film has an enormous impact on the fight for LGBT equality. The content at a film festival is often a precursor for what can become mainstream. Without organizations like Frameline, there might not have been Transparent and Orange is the New Black, or film adaptations of Rent, Brokeback Mountain, Angels in America and so many others. Each openly-LGBT character, along with new generations of filmmakers fighting to push the needle, begets new on-screen presentations of the LGBT experience. I firmly believe that if film can help humanize LGBT people, the same can be said for many others around the globe. Continue reading on Medium