For members of the LGBT community, the surrogacy law was the last straw.
In a rainbow-colored show of support, tens of thousands of people around the country on Sunday went on strike in protest over a law passed on Thursday that extended the right of state-funded surrogacy to single women, but denied it for single men and homosexual couples. Protesters considered this discriminatory.
“I think it’s the most basic thing that a human being can ask for himself is to be a parent. It’s absurd that it even came to that we need to protest for our basic human rights.”
State funding for surrogacy was previously only given to heterosexual couples, and is still denied for gay couples. It is legal for lesbian couples because they are considered to be single females.
Earlier last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video in which he promised to support an amendment to the bill that would grant access to surrogacy for single men. “MK Amir Ohana... raised a simple point on the surrogacy bill,” he said. “Single mothers [will have] the right to surrogacy and single fathers will not. This is simply not fair, and we need to fix it. And so I told him in the Likud faction meeting that I would support an amendment that he will submit.”
Notwithstanding his pledge of support, Netanyahu instead voted against the amendment, which didn’t surprise some MKs.
“Why did he do that?,” Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli asked. “Because that’s what he does. He lies on a regular basis. He says what he feels that he needs to say for his own benefit, and then he does what he feels that he needs to do for his own benefit as well. And all too often it doesn’t go together.”
Yesh Atid obtained the necessary number of MK signatures required to force a special session of the Knesset with Netanyahu during the parliament’s summer recess. A date has not been set for the session. The law was one of the last bills to be passed before the Knesset recessed.
Channel 2 reported Sunday night that a bill allowing single men to obtain children from surrogates that includes strict criteria was being worked on in the coalition, and that Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is in favor.
After the law passed last week, Aguda–Israel’s LGBT Task Force announced the strike and protests. Aguda vice president Roni Beleki knew the community was ready for it.
“I think it’s something that we can see in the last few years, that the LGBT community became more organized and became more political as we start to understand that if we want to have rights, we need to do something about it,” Beleki said. “We can’t just go to a parade and have fun. We need to be political. We need to be in a key position where we can change the strategy of the government.”
Scores of Israeli companies and organizations backed the strike, allowing their employees to take a paid day off to join the protests.
“I think we were really supported by almost all parts of society,” said Etai Pinkas, a Tel Aviv City Council member. “For the first time we have the commercial corporations behind us, that’s never happened before. The fact that we are on strike today and so many people join is really remarkable and really fulfilling.”
The march in Tel Aviv shut down Ayalon Highway, and police closed roads along the protest route that ended at the hub of the protest near Habima Square. Protests were also hosted in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba and Afula.
Some of the fiercest voices at the march in Tel Aviv belonged to LGBT youth from Israel Gay Youth (IGY), a group that fights to create safe spaces for gay youth. Members of the group led the march, stopping to chant, cheer and dance along the route. According to Rom Ohayon, an IGY member, there were around 100 members of IGY at the protest in Tel Aviv.
“I work every day with young LGBTs, and I think they are radical and they are ambitious and they can change the society, and we have the responsibility [to allow] them to do that... You won’t have to wait until you’re 18 for you to live and fight for our equal rights,” Ohayon said.
Yesh Atid MK Yael German believes nothing will change with the current government.
“We’re going to have some kind of session in the Knesset, but the main target should be, ‘Bibi must go home,’” German said. “As long as he’s at the head of the government and as long as he is trapped by the religious and the Orthodox, nothing will change.”
A separate protest in Tel Aviv focused on the transgender community. That march ended at a stage, where transgender men and women shared their experiences. One transgender women who was harassed by the police in the 1960s talked about how things had changed. Another woman had been stabbed for being transgender and was recently released from the hospital.
Overall, the protests were peaceful, except for one incident in which a protester was almost run over. According to a police statement, the incident was not serious.
On Sunday night, protesters gathered in Rabin Square for a rally in support of equal rights. The show began with Rita, who sang Bo
, or “Come” in English, from the movie Yossi & Jagger
about two IDF soldiers who are in love. Comedian Orna Banai also addressed the rally.
Surrogacy is an expensive medical process costing hundreds of thousands of shekels.
“The process of surrogacy is very complicated. It is crazy expensive and the costs are astronomical,” said Lior Yisraelov, who under the stage name of Suzi Boum is one of Tel Aviv’s best known drag queens. “If the right exists in Israel, if there are women who can have surrogacy, why can’t men? Especially homosexual couples. We are here to protest against all the anti-democratic laws that have been enacted recently in the country, especially against the LGBT community.”
The protests will continue this week in Jerusalem and elsewhere on Monday, Thursday and Friday.
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