Over 200 celebrities sign letter opposing boycott of Israeli film festival

The TLVFest annually features Palestinian films, including two short films this year. 

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

More than 200 actors, Hollywood studio executives and other members of the entertainment industry have signed an open letter in support of this year’s Tel Aviv International LGBTQ Film Festival (TLVFest), following efforts to boycott the annual event.

The open letter, penned by the non-profit entertainment industry organization Creative Community For Peace (CCFP), was released on Wednesday in direct response to anti-Israel boycott efforts targeting the film festival, which will take place Nov. 11-20 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and, this year, at Ennis Jaffa’s Stage, which is run by a Palestinian activist.

Palestinian members of the LGBTQIA+ community are part of the festival’s juries and organizers, and TLVFest annually features Palestinian films, including two short films this year. The opening night’s hosts also include Palestinian gay actress and filmmaker Samira Saraya.

The open letter said, “In Israel, movies have the unique power to bring together Jews, Arabs, and people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds in collaboration under a shared love of the arts, working together towards the common goal of telling their stories, and building bridges of compassion and understanding. The annual Tel Aviv International LGBTQ Film Festival (TLVFest) embodies this spirit of unity and truth, featuring films from filmmakers of all backgrounds, including Palestinians.”

Signatories include Mila Kunis, Neil Patrick Harris, Greg Berlanti, Jeremy Piven, Lance Bass, Melissa Rivers, Mayim Bialik, Billy Porter, Dame Helen Mirren, Zachary Quinto, Sherry Lansing, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Dana Goldberg, Gene Simmons, Greg Berlanti, Tracy Ann Oberman and Diane Warren.

“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,” the letter continued. “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. Artists should never be silenced, and art should not be subverted for political goals.”

CCFP Director Ari Ingel said supporting the boycott movement against Israel is “counterproductive” and that “instead of amplifying the voices of coexistence trying to effect real change on the ground, those who support the calls for a boycott are only creating more hostility and division.”

In a statement posted on the festival’s official website, TLVFest director Yair Hochner said TLVFest will continue to collaborate with “queer Palestinian filmmakers who are interested in coexisting peacefully and building a much more tolerant and inclusive Middle East, both for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Hochner also criticized boycott movements that he argued spread “selective analysis of hand-picked facts out of context, if not out-right lies,” about the festival. He said about these movements, “instead of promoting the Palestinian cause, they try to silence the ones who fight for freedom of speech. We are here to continue spreading LGBTQI+ culture and cinema across the country, introduce tolerance & pluralism, provoke thought, bring down walls, and build bridges between different cultures … Anyone who tries to shut down the festival, fights against the hope for freedom, justice, equality and peace.”

In 2020, more than 130 filmmakers and members of the film industry pledged to boycott TLVFest “in solidarity” with Palestinian members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Filmmakers and artists did the same in 2018 and similar efforts were made in 2017, with some guests cancelling their participation.