Israel’s Ministry of Tourism has defended a new advertising campaign that features billboards that say ‘Imagine London Without Gays’.
On Monday (18 April), a billboard appeared in Waterloo, London perplexing many people. There was no explanation of who was behind it or what the campaign was promoting.
Similar billboards were put up in Madrid and Berlin.
And on Facebook, many people started receiving a sponsored advert asking them to like a ‘World Without Gays’ Facebook page. This linked to a website that led to a slideshow showing the adverts that were appearing in London, Madrid, Berlin. One final image was ‘Imagine A World Without Gays’. That Facebook page has since been shut down.
Gay Star News spoke with JCDecaux, the advertising firm who owns the billboard in London, and they since confirmed it had ‘something to do with Tel Aviv’ and it was not intended to be a homophobic campaign.
In an exclusive interview with Gay Star News, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism have revealed they ‘wanted people to be furious’ by their campaign.
‘It’s a teaser, of course,’ a spokesperson for the country’s tourism ministry said. ‘We would like people to be furious about this billboard. “Who wrote it?” they’ll say. But in a matter of days, the billboard will change and you will see it is part of a campaign.’
When asked what it would lead to and the rationale behind it, the spokesperson said the campaign will ask people to imagine how a world without gays would be a world without color or creativity.
‘It’s a very daring creative,’ they added. ‘In today’s world, you want to attract attention. We would only do it in cities which are very gay-friendly. We don’t do it where it could be misunderstood… We would only do it in places where we are absolutely sure nobody would think it’s real.’
That’s not entirely accurate. Many on social media wondered whether the billboards were a ploy from a ‘gay cure’ group or another similar organization with a homophobic scheme.
Israel has been criticized for spending 11 million sherkels (£2 million, $3 million) on tourism to attract the LGBTI community this year. Activists in Israel say the government is more concerned by attracting tourists instead of making life better for LGBTI people in the country.
Such criticisms include the tourism ministry painting a plane in rainbow colors which will fly tourists to Tel Aviv for Pride.
Some LGBTI activists have called on the city to cancel Tel Aviv Pride because of this.
‘This is not in the court of the tourism ministry. The target is to bring tourists to Israel,’ the spokesperson added. ‘All the complaints of the gay community should be directed to a different address.
‘If you’re talking about marriage, there’s a different institution for that. If you’re talking about other rights, there’s a different institution for that. It’s not our responsibility because we don’t have the authority.’
Israel has also been accused of ‘pink-washing‘, spending money to attract the LGBTI community to deflect criticisms of other human rights issues.
On their message to those who have been offended by the billboards, the Israeli tourism ministry spokesperson concluded: ‘Wait one day, and I’m sure you’ll like it. The message is opposite. If you have the patience, you will see the message is the opposite of what you think.’