Canceling next year’s LGBT pride parade in Tel Aviv would stop “Israel’s masquerade as a country that embraces and encourages the community,” said the man behind a new campaign against a government statement deeming members of the community unsuitable to adopt children.
“There will no longer be pictures of the spectacular bustling parade taking place in Tel Aviv to paint Israel as liberal,” wrote Matan Kaufman, 30, the initiator of a Facebook event titled “We’re canceling Tel Aviv Pride Parade 2018!” “The parade was an important tool throughout the years to promote the acceptance and awareness of the community’s rights issues. And we as a community need to rethink whether this tool today is still serving that purpose, or whether in recent years it became a fig leaf for the government,” Kaufman told The Jerusalem Post.
The idea for this campaign came to Kaufman last week when he and his fiancée joined thousands protesting in Tel Aviv against the government’s view. In addition to questioning community members’ capabilities to cope with parenthood, the recent government statement also described LGBT relationships as “unusual.”
Kaufman described a feeling of déjà vu as he participated in the demonstration. “We’ve been here before, after Shira Banki was murdered and after the Bar Noar attack... and not a lot happened,” he said.
The Bar Noar attack was a deadly shooting at Tel Aviv’s gay youth center in 2009, in which two people were killed and at least 15 others were wounded. Banki was a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade in 2015.
Just two years after that attack, the Jerusalem pride parade is set to go ahead next week. But in a city filled with political and religious tensions, the event is also fraught with division between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Many members of the latter group object to public displays of homosexuality.
Even Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, has never attended the event – in contrast to his Tel Avivian counterpart, who is known to make appearances at his city’s festivities.
Barkat has already announced that he will not attend the parade on August 3. “They are part of the city of Jerusalem; we take care of them, we give them all the rights they deserve. They are allowed to march. But for me to march with them is a little bit of a different story,” he told reporters in May, mentioning the complexity and sensitivity that surround the event. Around 25,000 people attended the 15th Jerusalem pride parade last year, under heavy police security.
It’s the Tel Aviv affair that is iconic, drawing droves of visitors from around the world.
“The government will no longer have us or the cool pictures from the Tel Aviv parade as a card to wave at the UN or at the US Congress to show how enlightened Israel is. It’s not,” Kaufman wrote in the event description. He acknowledged that part of the community would suffer financial losses from the cancellation, but said: “In war, one needs to be prepared to sacrifice something in order to win.”
Kaufman and other proponents of this campaign feel that the LGBT community is being taken for granted and needs to take action to move toward a more just society.
“Our contribution to Israeli society is tremendous. We serve in the army, we pay our taxes. Many of us are model citizens,” Kaufman said. He served in the IDF for six years, is a captain and does reserve duty. “Why don’t we, as a community, demand our fair share in the pie of rights?” Same-sex marriage, state funding for LGBT groups, transgender rights and welfare assistance are among the issues on the agenda.
“They [the government] say we accept everyone and enable them. It’s a lie,” Kaufman charged.
“The government and the municipality are getting a lot of money from the thousands of tourists who come here,” agreed Tel Aviv community member Adi Pooha, 30. Last year, the parade in Israel’s cultural capital drew over 200,000 people, the largest-ever pride parade in the Middle East and Asia, the Tel Aviv Municipality said.
“But the moment the tourists get on their planes and go back home, we are stuck here with the situation.... We feel like second- class citizens,” Pooha told the Post
“When we have a reason to celebrate, I promise you it will be the biggest gay parade in Europe, but now we need to focus on the future of gay people in Israel, for the gay youth,” she said.
“All I want is that they will recognize me and my wife-to-be as mothers, and I want to be able to get married here legally. It’s so easy. It’s so 2017,” she said. “But we are very far away from it. So no parties.”
By Thursday, the Facebook page had garnered 1,400 clicks on the “going” option, which presumably translates into that number of endorsements of the motion, and 1,100 people had clicked “interested.” The idea has sparked heated debate, with members and supporters of the communities arguing ardently both for and against.
“It’s an awful idea, in my opinion,” community member Yuval Nissan, 27, from Kfar Saba, responded. “Canceling the march is going against what our predecessors worked so hard to achieve and is, in nature, an act of victimhood.”
He noted that just last year, the LGBT community of Beersheba received permission to hold a parade as a result of its leaders’ tireless efforts. “Canceling the parade in Tel Aviv would be to spit in their faces and in the faces of community members throughout the country,” he opined.
A man of 30 from Tel Aviv, who declined to be identified, said he felt the parade is, in the Israel of today, counterproductive.
While he believes that it was necessary in the past, when it was still considered an embarrassment to come out of the closet, he felt the march now actually works against the interests of the community – highlighting them as “different” when they are not.
“Today we see men kissing on TV, we see men walking hand in hand in the street, we have gay politicians – as a whole, society accepts them,” he said.
He acknowledged that the community still has a long way to go in terms of equal rights, and supports the idea of protesting in place of the parade.
Nissan contested this line of thought: “It is a fact that gays are not equal like everyone else. The government’s policy about the matter make that clear.
“For me, the parade is there to show confused and frightened boys and girls that they are part of a larger, colorful community and that they have support. Of course, many people just see it as a chance to have fun, but at its core, the parade serves people of the community who are too scared to show their true selves,” he said.
Nissan added that it’s a mistake to think “coming out” is no longer a hardship for youths. “There are many tragic stories in the community,” he noted.
“It will be a victory for those same factions that pass homophobic laws in the Knesset and come out with announcements such as the recent message on adoption. Nobody will be hurt by this except us,” Kostya Moiseev, from Haifa, wrote on the event page.
But another man of 34, an American community member who used to live in Tel Aviv, threw his weight behind the cancellation.
“Gay pride started as a protest, and the idea of canceling it as a protest speaks to both its roots and how much things have changed,” the American told the Post.
The first gay pride marches took place in the US on June 28, 1970, commemorating the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, in which LGBT community members violently demonstrated against a police raid of a gay establishment.
“The original idea was to create visibility after the Stonewall riots. For the community to say ‘We won’t hide anymore, we are determined to be seen,’ the slogan was ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,’” said the American who declined to give his name.
“So what an amazing thing to have reached a point where we are saying, ‘Don’t get too comfortable. You’re maybe a little too used to it and taking it for granted.’” This is not the first time that LGBT activists have threatened to cancel the parade. It happened just last year, after the Tourism Ministry announced an NIS 11 million campaign to attract tourists to the event, sparking outrage that the government allocated such generous resources to attract tourists, while granting limited resources to causes that serve the LGBT community itself. The outcome of the threat was a NIS 10m. grant to LGBT organizations across the country.
But Kaufman said that this time, it should be more than just a threat. “They can bring a DJ and speakers, but without us, there is no parade.”
He thinks that in order for the community’s voice to be heard, it must cancel the event and replace it with regular protests.
“I think once we put the basic lack of rights on the table, it would encourage a lot of people to come and protest with us rather than to come party with us,” he said.
While many people outside of the community don’t find a place for themselves at the parade, they would participate in protests for equal rights, Kaufman said.
“The first step will be for us as a community to truly understand what we want and to set goals,” Kaufman said, and this is exactly what he plans to produce in the coming weeks, together with other members of his community.