Israeli Tourism Ministry drops gay pride plane promotion after activists protest

The Israeli Tourism Ministry abandoned plans to paint a passenger plane in the colours of the rainbow to bring tourists to Tel Aviv to celebrate gay pride after opposition arose from LGBT activists, the CBC's Derek Stoffel writes.

Tel Aviv Pride Parade expected to draw 180,000 participants to annual event

Israel’s Tourism Ministry had proposed painting a big passenger plane in the colours of the rainbow using it to promote the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, but the plan has been dropped. (Allenby Advertising)

Someone in Israel's Tourism Ministry had a bright idea: paint a big passenger plane in the colours of the rainbow and bring tourists to Tel Aviv to celebrate gay pride.

The plane was part of a multimillion-dollar promotional plan, but LGBT activists considered the funding gap between what would have been spent on it and the current level of fiscal support for the LGBT community "absurd." They called for the cancellation of Friday's Tel Aviv Pride Parade instead. 

That opposition from the gay community forced the ministry to back down, and the parade is going ahead, with expectations of 180,000 participants, including 30,000 foreign visitors.

Because of this year's controversy over marketing, the event will be much more political than in years past, said Chen Arieli, co-chair of Agudah, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force.

Chen Arieli, left, and Imri Kalmann are co-chairs for Agudah, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, which opposed Israeli Tourism Ministry plans for promotion of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

"We need to march, to be proud of who we are, to march to demand equality and recognition," she said. "It's not just a big party. It's a place that we can protest."

There will also be a change in how the event gets underway Friday afternoon.

Before the floats and revellers — many already tanned to perfection and wearing the skimpiest of swimsuits — head down Tel Aviv's beachfront for the annual Pride Parade, the party music will stop for the first-ever moment of silence.

It will honour Shira Banki, a 16-year-old Israeli who died after she was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade last summer.

Cases of violence

Arieli said there have been other less serious cases of violence against members of Israel's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the last year in a country that prides itself as having the best gay rights record in the Middle East.

The Tourism Ministry had planned to spend 11 million shekels ($3.75 million Cdn) to attract tourists to Israel for Tel Aviv Pride. A contest was devised to bring tourists here on that rainbow-coloured jetliner.

But LGBT activists opposed the plan.

"The notion that the Tourism Ministry is going to spend 11 million shekels to bring tourism into Israel, and the gap between … the budget the community itself gets … is absurd," Arieli told CBC News.

The threat by activists to cancel Pride Parade worked.

A reveler poses for a picture during the annual gay pride parade in Tel Aviv on June 13, 2014. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

The Tourism Ministry dropped plans for the rainbow plane. The Finance Ministry has also met with LGBT community members to find a way to redirect some of those 11 million shekels to gay and lesbian organizations.

Agudah says the 11 million shekels earmarked for promoting tourism is 10 times the government funding received by all Israeli gay and lesbian organizations.

The Tourism Ministry decided to review its spending on the promotional plan.

"When the LGBT community declared their intention to turn the Tel Aviv Pride Parade into a protest march from a tourist event, the Tourism Ministry decided to re-evaluate its marketing investment," the ministry said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

Tel Aviv promotes itself as one the "gayest cities" on the planet. It's common to see gay parents pushing their children in strollers down its busy Rothschild Boulevard.

But LGBT activists say outside Tel Aviv, much more education needs to be done to promote gay rights, especially in conservative religious areas.

Rather than having money spent to encourage tourism, activists are calling on the government to increase funding for the agencies that deal with LGBT homelessness or the community's aging population.

'No one accepted him'

Imri Kalmann, the other Agudah co-chair, cited the case of a 66-year-old HIV positive Israeli man "who tried to be accepted in an [elderly care home] and called every elderly house in Israel and no one accepted him."

The issue of gay marriage in Israel is complicated. While not technically illegal, there is no institution that has the authority to carry out such marriages, since couples may only wed through their religious institutions.

Thousands of gay couples have gone abroad, many to Canada, to tie the knot, and those marriages are recognized in Israel.

Some activists have accused the Israeli government of exploiting the country's relatively liberal attitudes toward the LGBT community in order to distract from its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israel-backers dismiss what has become known as "pinkwashing" as anti-Israeli, or even anti-Semitic.

"Those anti-Israel activists within the LGBT community who accuse Israel of "pinkwashing" wilfully ignore the facts of Israel's vibrant democracy in order to justify and promote their attacks against Israel," writes the Anti-Defamation League on its website. 

Kalmann, of Agudah, said he's proud of the pressure activists put on the Israeli government.

"What happened with the organizations all coming together, threatening to cancel the parade, is something [that] shows you that there is change and we are not willing to be a puppet in this game anymore."


Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.