Amelie Rosseneu (left) and Roni Schwartz..
(photo credit: Israel Judo Association- Courtesy)
Sports have the ability to break down barriers, a well-known truth proven time and again in history, and once more in Israel on Tuesday.
The Israeli government coalition was in turmoil last month due to a bill aimed at granting male same-sex couples the same tax credits for raising children as heterosexual couples.
The issue generated a conflict between the Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi parties, with the latter initially vetoing the measure as it objected to language that gave legal recognition to homosexual couples.
The bill ultimately passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset last month, with the parties agreeing to iron out the details during the committee process.
The debate regarding the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) has divided many countries in recent decades.
After lagging behind, Israel has quickly closed the gap on the Western world in the past few years.
Same-sex sexual activity was only legalized under Israeli law in 1988, although the prohibition was not enforced after a 1963 court decision.
Israel has recognized unregistered cohabitation between same-sex couples, and although same-sex marriages are not performed in the country, Israel does acknowledge same-sex marriages conducted elsewhere.
Another milestone will soon be reached when judoka Amelie Rosseneu represents Israel in official competition. Rosseneu, who will celebrate her 26th birthday on Saturday, has represented her homeland of Belgium in the under- 48 kilogram weight-class over the past decade.
However, everything changed when she fell in love with Israeli judoka Roni Schwartz several years ago, with the two quickly becoming a couple. Rosseneu moved t o Israel to live with her partner several months ago and approached the Israel Judo Association with a request to represent the country.
Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat sent a letter to Minister of the Interior Gideon Sa’ar recommending that Rosseneu receive a temporary resident visa that would allow her to represent Israel. MK Yoel Razvozov and Olympic judo medalist Ya’al Arad also put their weight behind the request and the IJA confirmed on Tuesday that Rosseneu is due to become a temporary resident in the coming days.
Rosseneu, who is currently with the Israel women’s team in its training camp in Japan and South Korea, is a six-time Belgian national champion and claimed the gold medal at the European under-23 Championships in 2010.
She ended last April’s European Championships in Budapest in fifth place and will gift the Israel women’s roster another quality judoka, who is currently ranked at No. 15 in the world in her weight-class.
“She has been training with the national team on-and-off over the past year-and-a-half and her addition will give us a real push,” said national team coach Shany Hershko. “It is an honor for me and the team that an athlete from a judo powerhouse like Belgium wants to join us. She left everything behind to move here.”
The 29-year-old Schwartz only began her professional career seven years ago, initially in the under-48kg weight-class before moving up to the under-52kg. She missed out on a place at the London Olympics, but is currently ranked at No. 16 in the world and is hoping to reach Rio 2016.
This will be the first time that an athlete has earned the right to represent Israel due to a same-sex relationship, demonstrating once more that sports are at the forefront of social breakthroughs.
It is her love for Schwartz that brought Rosseneu to also fall for Israel and want to become an inseparable part of the country.
Regardless of how you might feel about LGBT rights, it will be hard not to cheer for Rosseneu, who followed her heart to Israel and will now have the chance to bring pride to her adopted country.