Orthodox lesbian running for Knesset in new right-wing party

Lisa Liel was inspired to become more observant by the late MK Rabbi Meir Kahana, who spoke about Jewish pride at Liel’s university.

September 10, 2017 20:38
3 minute read.
Lisa Liel



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Former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin has come a long way since writing a controversial article a decade ago in which he declared himself “a proud homophobe.”

He canceled a meeting with the gay community in March 2013 after he received complaints from key supporters in the US. But he held a high-profile meeting with gay activists in December 2014 and he became friends with gay Likud MK Amir Ohana.

Now that Feiglin has his own party, Zehut, he told The Jerusalem Post he “doesn’t check who people sleep with” and has welcomed Chicago immigrant Lisa Liel, an Orthodox Jewish lesbian who is running in Tuesday’s Zehut primary.

The 2600 members who have joined Zehut will be selecting 15 candidates among 25 running. Those 15 will then be ranked ahead of the next general election in what might end up being Israel’s first open primary in which all citizens will be permitted to vote.

The candidates running Tuesday include two who made aliya from the US: Liel and New Jersey-raised, Yeshiva University educated Hebron spokesman Yishai Fleisher. If elected to Knesset, Liel would be the first openly lesbian MK, though Marcia Friedman came out after she completed her one term in 1977.

Liel, 54, has been together for 19 years with her partner, with whom she has a daughter who is a high school senior. But Liel stressed that she does not consider herself a gay activist and said she has opposed the Jerusalem gay pride parade from the start.“Being gay is part of who I am, just like having brown hair and brown eyes,” Liel said.

Liel’s partner is also Orthodox and she said she sees it as “less and less of a challenge over the years.” Liel’s daughter was rejected from elementary schools in Chicago, but welcomed at the high school Liel herself attended, Ida Crown Jewish Academy, whose principal Leonard Matanky she called “a mensch.”

At Washington University in St Louis, Liel became Orthodox after debating a professor she said was virulently anti-religious and researching how to prove him wrong. When she moved to Israel she changed her name from Aaronson to Liel. She now lives in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood and prays at the Orthodox Mizmor LeDavid synagogue.

Liel was inspired to become more observant by the late MK Rabbi Meir Kahana, who spoke about Jewish pride at Liel’s university. She first heard Feiglin speak to the Association of Americans and Canadians in Jerusalem in 1998 and was impressed by his integrity.

When asked why she is running for Knesset, Liel said: “There are things that need to be done. I spend a lot of time complaining about what the government does, and I realized that complaining wasn’t very productive, and if I wanted changes, I would have to do them myself.”

Liel said she would make a good MK, because she is a computer programmer.

“I’m a problem solver,” she said. “It’s what I do. I design programming systems from the ground up. It all has to fit together. The same is true of the country. You can’t deal with one small area. One part fits with another part.”

Liel said that as an MK she would work on transparency and write extensively online about what was happening at the parliament. She said she wanted to restore a sense of ownership of the Knesset to the public.

“The Knesset and the government need to stop looking at themselves as rulers,” she said. “They don’t see themselves as beholden to the citizenry. I want to create a customer service department. The citizens of Israel should be sovereign.

Liel shares her party’s views against Palestinian statehood, calling the Palestinian Authority a disaster.  She said she believes Zehut will gain strength the more people hear about the new party.

“We’re going to be the surprise of the election,” she said. “We haven’t even started campaigning and polls say people want to vote for us.”

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