Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Israeli Bar Association on June 10, 2019.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
With the appointment of Likud’s Amir Ohana as justice minister a few weeks ago, there has been much fanfare and discussion surrounding his sexual orientation. The appointment has been seen by many as a milestone for LGBT rights in Israel and has been viewed as a clear statement by the prime minister that sexual orientation bears no impact on job performance.
Unfortunately, as Likud and its supporters pat themselves on the back and use Ohana as an example to prove their lack of prejudice, these same people are simultaneously utilizing Ohana to wage a campaign against the LGBT community.
After Ohana was reportedly met with boos at the Jerusalem Pride Parade following his appointment as justice minister, journalists and pundits made a concerted effort to paint the LGBT community as partisan and intolerant of right-wing viewpoints.
This view fits into a wider, albeit more accurate, narrative in the Western world that minorities are controlled by the “Left” and are accepting of everyone but conservatives. This phenomenon is particularly recognizable to American readers who have seen college campuses devolve from paragons of debate into war zones of identity politics and conservative censoring. That may be why it is so tempting to fit the attitudes of the LGBT community into this familiar story: Ohana, the lone conservative gay wolf, standing proud as he is exiled and persecuted by his colorful pack of leftist wolves. Unfortunately, while I appreciate the imagery, the substance is nothing short of nonsense.
Unlike the United States and many other Western democracies, the LGBT Israeli political makeup is far from homogeneous. According to a poll conducted by The Aguda, the Israeli LGBT Task Force, only 31% of LGBT voters were planning to vote Blue and White followed by Labor at 24% and Meretz at 21%. While all these parties may lean Left, the vote is quite split and the largest faction is Blue and White which is not a radically left-wing party by any acceptable policy-based metric. That is to say, no one party carries the LGBT community in its pocket and that comes as no surprise to LGBT Israelis.
After years of frequenting gay bars, partaking in many LGBT group discussions and seeing my LGBT friends serve in the army, I am acutely aware of the political diversity of our community. However, we struggle with a complex question every election and that is whether to vote our political conscience or for the rights and protections we deserve as contributing citizens. In other words, do we vote to advance civil marriage, hate crime legislation and the same rights to surrogacy as heterosexual Israeli couples enjoy (for starters)? Or, do we vote on security, the economy and foreign relations? Before passing judgment on this predicament I would ask readers to consider the many Jews who find themselves facing a similar question during US presidential elections: do I vote for the America I want to see, or for a more favorable US policy on Israel?
FOR A brief moment in time, Ohana provided the answer to these hairsplitting questions. For those who lean conservative, they could finally vote for a new Likud, exemplified by Ohana, that would both work toward our equality but also align with their conservative positions. However, the Ohana dream was quite royally crushed during coalition negotiations. Right-wing religious parties made clear that LGBT equality was a nonstarter for negotiations, and Netanyahu, Likud and Ohana surrendered quietly to their demands, leaving the LGBT conservative Israeli in the dust, lost again. The lone wolf with no party that truly represented their values and the feeling that they’d forever be forced to choose between their political leanings and their rights. Yet, Ohana is merely a symptom of the problem.
The term “pinkwashing” is generally defined as the Israeli government’s attempt to hide alleged Israeli injustice against Palestinians with its liberal position on LGBT rights. This definition of pinkwashing is false not only because it is defamatory, but also because it lays bare the ignorance of those who use it and the effectiveness of true pinkwashing. In my view, pinkwashing is the government’s systematic attempt to cover up the numerous ways it fails its LGBT population with grand empty gestures that are apparently so convincing that groups like BDS now see Israel as a beacon of gay rights. It’s the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, the top gay army officials and now the gay justice minister, all pointed to as proof of Israel’s liberalism and all collectively drowning out our cries for equality in a sea of hollow suits and glitter.
Being the capital of LGBT rights in the Middle East is no crown to wear with pride, it is a dunce hat to be worn, an adult beating out a class of kindergarteners in a paper mache contest.
It is true, Ohana was booed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and while I will not condone the silencing of any public figure, Ohana is a constant reminder of why many of us choose to advance our community’s civil rights. To characterize our reaction to Ohana as partisan exclusivity is both offensive and wholly inaccurate. Our community has no qualm with political diversity, it is instead that a myriad of political parties seem to have a problem with us and work tirelessly against our struggle for equality.
Oh how I ponder what it’s like to vote only my political will. Oh how I wish for a world where I need not choose between my political convictions and my ability to rear future children. To be a free people, in our land, oh what a dream that would be. The writer is an author of the Eshel Pledge, has written in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and has a blog for the Times of Israel. He recently emigrated to Israel and lives in Modi’in as he prepares to enlist as a lone soldier in the IDF.
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