The Foreign Ministry is promoting Gay Israel as part of its campaigns to break apart the negative stereotypes many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel. The initiative flies in the face of the swelling protest against Jerusalem's Gay Pride parade set for November 10. But even as its organizers are receiving anonymous threats of a holy war against them, Gay activist Michael Hamel is traveling in Europe and North America working on publicizing Gay Israel. A portion of his work, he told The Jerusalem Post by phone as he sat drinking coffee in a California airport, has the support of the Foreign Ministry. "We are working very closely with them," said Hamel, who heads the The AGUDAH, Israel's Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgenders. As part of its joint work with the Foreign Ministry, said Hamel, they were going to bring Gay journalists to Israel last summer, but the event was canceled because of the war with Lebanon. It is also working on a map of Gay Tel Aviv. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post this week that efforts to let European and American liberals know about the gay community in Israel were an important part of its work to highlight this country's support of human rights and to underscore its diversity in a population that tends to judge Israel harshly solely on its treatment of Palestinians. Still it's a topic that is so touchy, he did not want his name used. But David Saranga, who works in the New York consulate, was more open about the need to promote Gay Israel as part of showing liberal America that Israel is more than the place where Jesus once walked. The gay culture is an entryway to the liberal culture, he said, because in New York, it's that culture that is creating "a buzz." Israel needs to show this community that it is relevant to them by promoting gay tourism, gay artists and films. Showing young, liberal Americans that Israel also has a gay culture goes a long toward informing them that Israel is a place that respects human rights, as well, said Saranga. Hamel said that portraying Israel as a place where normal life occurs, including gay culture, helps people relate to it as a place much like the country in which they live. Among the stops in his trip was a conference in Madrid to place Israel in the running to host the Europe Pride event in 2009 as part of Tel Aviv's centennial celebrations. "We are also trying to promote gay tourism in Israel," said Hamel, who said that he works to include material on Israel at Gay conferences and in tourism shows. He is also working on an Internet site that will be devoted to gay tourism in Israel, and speaks about Israel's efforts to help Gay Palestinians who are persecuted in the West Bank. In some instances they have been killed and tortured, said Hamel. Israel is the only country that is trying to help them, he said. Just knowing that gives people a different outlook, he said. "We come and we say Israel is not exactly the monster you thought it was," Hamel said.

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