A proud Knesset

Israeli society is inherently liberal and progressive when it comes to social issues.

June 29, 2019 22:55
3 minute read.
Tel Aviv’s 2016 LBGTQ Pride Parade

Revelers at Tel Aviv’s 2016 LBGTQ Pride Parade. (photo credit: GUY YECHIELI)

One of the key critiques of the State of Israel in recent years is that it has turned to the Right. The decade of rule by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed in the international press by the deadlock in the peace process and the continued construction in West Bank settlements, has led many to accuse the Jewish state of becoming nationalistic, right-wing and of losing touch with its liberal beginnings.

Events over the past month should be able to help dispel that argument.

On June 6, more than 10,000 people marched in the pride parade in Jerusalem, one of the most religiously-contested cities in the world, let alone in Israel. On June 14, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tel Aviv, which has hosted for over 20 years one of the biggest pride parades in all of Asia and one of the most popular in the world.

On June 5, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Amir Ohana Israel’s justice minister, making the right-wing politician the first gay cabinet minister in the country’s history. And last Thursday, Nitzan Horowitz, a former Knesset member and journalist, beat out Tamar Zandberg and became not just the new chairman of Meretz but also the first gay leader of a political party in Israel. In addition, last March, Ra’anana became the first city in Israel to have an openly gay mayor.

These advances for the LGBT community come after Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross, allowed, for the first time last year, blood donations from gay men. Even Bayit Yehudi, one of the more conservative political parties in the country, announced last April that its doors were open to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

In the current Knesset there are five openly-gay members of parliament – Ohana, Itzik Shmuli from the Labor Party and three MKs from the centrist Blue and White party: Eitan Ginzburg, Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzanu.

This is all something Israel and the Jewish world can be proud of. Israel is a democratic state, the only one in the entire Middle East. While it has flaws – lack of a civil marriage option is one example – the country’s treatment of its LGBT community and the rights that it has afforded those members, is a sign that the country’s liberal beginnings are not lost as some people might claim, but are rather alive and well throughout society.

This progressiveness is not isolated to the LGBT community. There are growing calls within the wider population to abolish the Chief Rabbinate and more Israelis are marrying outside the rabbinate than ever before. More ultra-Orthodox men are participating in the workforce and serving in the IDF. This number needs to increase but the trend is moving in a positive direction.

The success of the LGBT community in Israel is an example of how the country can strive to ignore an issue like sexual orientation and see people for who they are and the talents they possess. It shows that being a democracy does not end with pride parades. It requires the protection of the rights of all minorities.

The same needs to be applied across society when it comes to helping to boost up other minorities in society – Israeli-Arabs or even haredim who all face discrimination in the workplace and sometimes within their communities.

Israel’s detractors often claim that the country’s treatment of its LGBT community is an attempt at pinkwashing, basically a PR campaign meant to cover up the Jewish state’s alleged abuse of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But they are wrong. Israeli society is inherently liberal and progressive when it comes to social issues. On security matters, the electorate may have turned to the Right but when it comes to matters of religion and state, the LGBT community and economic independence, the country’s liberal beginnings continue to show.

Israel is a country of different stripes, colors, ethnicities and orientations. Its people can be proud of the diversity found in the Knesset, the government and all throughout society.

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