Notable celebrities are pushing back against attempts by anti-Israel activists to boycott an Israeli film festival.
TLVFest, which runs from November 11 to the 20, is themed around LGBT films and also includes panels with the filmmakers. Palestinian activists that the film festival is an effort by Israel to continue its "pinkwashing agenda."
According to the BDS movement, pinkwashing is "...an Israeli government propaganda strategy that cynically exploits LGBTQIA+ rights to project a progressive image while concealing Israel's occupation and apartheid policies oppressing Palestinians."
Elias Jahshan, a social media activist and writer at The New Arab, said in an interview with Insider, "The boycott would draw attention to how Israel is not the haven for LGBTQ people in the Middle East it purports to be."
"Sure, it's legal and there are lots of rights and a fair amount of equality... but that's only on paper. Palestinian citizens of Israel who happen to be LGBTQ are still subject to being treated as second-class citizens, and just because they're queer does not make them immune to all that."
Jahshan also added that the organizers of the festival were "gaslighting" activists by inviting Palestinian filmmakers to feature on the panel. He added, "There are plenty of other festivals — and platforms — around that these filmmakers can showcase their films. We wouldn't be having this discussion if it were a queer film festival in apartheid South Africa."
The non-profit Creative Community for Peace released the letter supporting TLVFest which over 200 celebrities signed. Some notable names include Neil Patrick Harris, Mayim Bialik, Mila Kunis, Billy Porter, Dame Helen Mirren, Zachary Quinto, Sherry Lansing, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gene Simmons, Greg Berlanti, Lance Bass, Melissa Rivers, Paul Feig and others.
The letter read, "We stand united with all the participating filmmakers against the divisive rhetoric espoused by boycott activists who seek to misinform, bully and intimidate artists into removing their films from the festival or shame them for participating in the festival. We believe that anyone who works to subvert TLVFest merely adds yet another roadblock to freedom, justice, equality, and peace that we all desperately desire, especially for the LGBTQ community that is persecuted throughout the Middle East and around the world."
Director Luc Bernard said, "[BDS] is trying to silence voices" of LGBT people in the Middle East. He added, "With trans people getting killed in the MENA region for only existing, I stand with the TLVFest, the only festival in the Middle East showing LGBTQ experiences, for helping people understand their struggle."