Gay Pride flags 370.
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
The Knesset, Israel’s governing body, has introduced a crucial amendment to the
Student Rights Law. On Sunday, June 26, 2013, a coalition led by Knesset member
Dov Henin proposed to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and
gender identity in the education system.
The Student Rights Law,
originally drafted to ensure the rights of those in the education system,
currently stipulates that it is a criminal offense to discriminate against a
student on the basis of religion, socioeconomic background or political
Dov Henin’s coalition seeks to add sexual orientation and
gender to the list of protected identities, citing figures that show the
education system in Israel is rife with instances of heterosexism and
The proposed bill addresses an important and difficult
problem facing Israel. Queer youth find their identities condemned by a large
part of Israeli society. Here, an MK can openly assert that people are
homosexual because they were abused as children. The top rated Israeli reality
show Big Brother features a violent contestant who recently aimed venomous
anti-lesbian comments at another contestant.
Currently, the Israeli queer
community is mourning the loss of two of its members to a hate crime in Tel
The effect of this hatred is immediate and
Queer youth are vulnerable to damaging attacks that can lead
to anxiety, depression and suicide, as both Israeli and worldwide research
indicates. An Israeli study reveals that half of queer youths are exposed to
anti-queer verbal violence, a quarter have been sexually harassed at school, and
10 percent subjected to physical attacks. Additionally, many youth report that
teachers do not condemn verbal violence and slurs, and a quarter of youths have
had homophobic and transphobic remarks hurled at them by teachers
The proposed amendment is crucial to empowering queer youth.
It ensures that schools are legally obligated to disown the warped messages
about gender identity and sexual orientation that are imparted to youth via
society and the media. It promotes the values of respect, tolerance and human
dignity in the realm of education. Significantly, this bill will affect all
youth in the education system, including those who are often relegated to the
periphery in the queer community.
In recent years, privileged members of
the queer community have introduced bills which address their own needs while
ignoring and sometimes trampling the interests of disempowered subpopulations
within our community.
Powers in the Knesset prevent members from
supporting the queer community fully, and members often carefully choose which
measures to support. We fear that MKs would be more inclined to vote for heavily
promoted bills like same-sex marriage that would mark them as progressive and
socially just, while ignoring the more marginal, highly localized and less
glamorous bill proposals.
Thus, it is absolutely necessary to support
this amendment and to promote it vigorously.
This amendment means working
toward the safety of queer youth in the education system. It means introducing
children to the spirit of respect and human dignity from a younger
It means progress toward a safer, more just Israeli
On Wednesday, July 5, 2013, the proposal will be brought for a
preliminary vote at the Knesset’s general assembly. We thus call on you to send
letters to MKs, asking for their support for this important piece of
legislation.The author is an English major at Bryn Mawr College. She is
working as a summer intern at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.