In 1948 when the State of Israel was established, most of the laws prevailing in then British Mandate Palestine were initially adopted by the fledgling state. One of those laws, dating from Queen Victoria’s time (she died in 1901), made homosexuality illegal. (Only between males. The prim, proper and Majestic Victoria was said to have expressed sheer disbelief that two women could or would ever love one another “that way”). That restrictive law – excluding lesbians – was adopted in Israel.
In 1967, a full 10 years after the Wolfenden Report (named for the commission investigating laws concerning homosexuality in Britain) had been published, Queen Victoria’s laws were dumped in Britain.
The ban on same-sex consensual acts in Israel was repealed by the Knesset in 1988.
According to the Huffington Post this week, the editors of the iconic Oxford English Dictionary are at full gallop in considering how to change the dictionary definition of marriage to reflect the reality of the world in 2013. A spokeswoman for Oxford University Press confirmed that the definition of “marriage” will change in a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary to include same-sex couples.
“We continually monitor the words in our dictionaries, paying particular attention to those words whose usage is shifting, so yes, this will happen with marriage.”
New York City held its first pride parade in 1970, Jerusalem only in 2002. The parade in New York draws millions of marchers and spectators, while according to this newspaper there were only about 4,000 at last year’s event in Jerusalem. And yet – the importance of the event in Israel’s capital far far outweighs those in New York and all the dozens of annual parades all over the world, combined.
It’s so easy to hold a parade in liberal New York, in the almost 240-year-old US democracy. It takes ambition, determination and powered-up commitment to do so in staid, ancient Jerusalem, capital of 66-yearold not-yet-sure Israel. The Jerusalem Open House, organizers of the event (which is called the “Parade for Pride and Tolerance”), aims for love without borders; where those borders might be political, geographical or racial. The parade fosters welcoming inclusivity for all communities, races and religions. In previous years threats of violence – and in 2005, actual physical violence involving knifing – have marred, but not succeeded in canceling, the happy events.
The parades in Jerusalem are “gay” in the happiest sense of the word.
Too many confused and questioning youth, from all segments of Israeli society, gain strength, insight and self-respect from knowing that even in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, the right to say “I’m gay” is sacrosanct. Too many parents of gay or lesbian children need to know that their children are perfectly normative – different perhaps, but normal – and that the skies do not and will not rain fire and brimstone of the gay community, even in Jerusalem.
It is unreasonable to compare Jerusalem’s pride to London’s (or Paris or Toronto or Cape Town). The pride of Jerusalem can however be contrasted to the shame of Riyadh, the criminality of Damascus, the violence of Cairo, the milquetoast that is Amman.
Jerusalem has suffered from extremists of every ilk, yet Israel’s capital is still “a light unto the nations.”
When the nations of the world look at the colorful pride parades in Oslo, Amsterdam and yes, New York, they yawn politely. But when The Jerusalem Post reports on the pride parade here, the nations of the world sit up and listen.
And not only the nations of the world – for here lies the key to the importance of the Jerusalem pride parade: It is a dazzling light; a breath of fresh air; a moment of profound rapture, for, say, a confused lesbian Catholic in Dublin; a puzzled gay Anglican in Uganda; for an about-to-commit-suicide Protestant teenager in St. Johns, or a gay father in Boise, Idaho.
But not least, for the gay Jewish communities of Buenos Aires, Wellington, Costa Rica and Chicago.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest, and certainly the holiest, city in the world; the world listens when Jerusalem speaks. Tolerance, love, acceptance and pride from Jerusalem are worth their weight in gold.
No other city in the world can do that.
Israel, a Western, first-world, hi-tech, developed and liberal country somehow fits comfortably into the Levant, perhaps to show the world that even in the Middle East jungle, things can be different. Too many people take comfort from the hope that only the unique Jerusalem Pride Parade for tolerance brings them. Too many lives depend on it.
All the rest is commentary.
The writer is the author of a new book, “Flying Colors” (http://tinyurl.com/cpa8bq3) about his youth in apartheid South Africa, and his experiences as an El Al flight attendant. He established TEHILA – a self-help organization for parents and families of gay men and lesbians.