The State of Israel entered its own float at the Stockholm Gay Pride parade on Saturday, though the word “Israel” was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the float prominently promoted the coastal city of Tel Aviv, which is famous for its own extremely popular annual parade.
The Israeli officials who marched in the Swedish capital’s parade, led by Ambassador Isaac Bachman, waved Israeli flags and rainbow flags with the Star of David on them. The word “Israel” was noticeably absent, however, neither appearing on the float itself nor on the T-shirts worn by participants. A banner on the front of the truck carrying the float said “Tel Aviv Salutes Stockholm Pride.” The shirts said “I ♥ Tel Aviv” and “Tel Aviv Pride.”
A banner on the side of the float hailed the beach city as an attractive travel destination for gay tourists, and promoted the website visit-tel-aviv.com.
While Tel Aviv is the undisputed capital of Israel’s LGBT community — indeed, the city has been recognized as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world — pride parades take place in other Israeli cities as well, most notably in Jerusalem.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Tel Aviv was featured on the float to promote the city as a travel destination for the LGBT community and there was no intention to detract from the country itself. “There is no one who doesn’t know that Tel Aviv is in Israel,” ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.
“Tel Aviv is viewed here as a great story of success, as one of the gay capitals of the world, and also as one of the best for tourism, so this is what is highlighted,” Bachman, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, told The Times of Israel. “Tel Aviv is nothing short of iconic among the gay community here.”
Israeli officials often complain when “Tel Aviv” is used as a synonym for Israel, arguing that Jerusalem and not the White City is the country’s capital. The government in Sweden — the first in Europe to recognize a Palestinian state — is one of the most critical toward Israel on the Continent. A world map presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week in the Knesset singled out Sweden, together with Ireland, as less friendly than other European countries.
Bachman said, though, that he doubts that the Israeli float would have received a more critical reception had it featured the word Israel more prominently.
“Before anything else, the giant flags of Israel were seen from far away from the first to the last moment of the parade,” he said. Israel was present “in all its might and colors with me and the embassy staff at the lead and with Israeli flags up high, something that was unthinkable until very recently,” Bachman said.
If anything, the parade was “a gigantic breakthrough for Israel in Swedish public opinion as a pluralist and enlightened country,” he said.
But one aspect of the parade float wasn’t received so well back home.
Along with the float was a life-sized doll of a topless man with a Star of David necklace, stubble on his face, and blue board shorts with the word Eilat printed on them. The Ynet news site expressed disgust that the Foreign Ministry would stoop to using a stereotypical depiction of a macho Israeli male as a “gimmick” to encourage tourism.
“What among us would be understood as an ‘arse doll,'” Foreign Ministry officials who spoke to Ynet said, referring to a Hebrew term typically applied to Mizrahim, “is understood by Europeans, particularly Swedes, as the macho Israeli persona they love.”
According to the report the Foreign Ministry uses two such life-sized doll costumes, one in Sweden and another in Russia, to promote tourism.
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