In an interview on Wednesday evening with Channel 12’s Amit Segal, newly sworn-in Justice Minister Amir Ohana explained his controversial view of the Supreme Court by referring to the horrifying ambush and slaughter of a pregnant woman and her four young daughters at the hands of Palestinian jihadists 15 years ago.
In 2004, Gush Katif resident Tali Hatuel and her children – Hila, 11; Hadar, 9; Roni, 7; and 2-year-old Merav – were gunned down at the Kissufim junction by terrorists who, it emerged, had managed to hide behind buildings that were identified by the IDF as security threats. Nevertheless, said Ohana, the Supreme Court, “despite its lack of expertise” in the matter, “prevented the demolition of the structures.”
So when asked by Segal if he – a lawyer, a major in the reserves, a veteran of the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) and now interim justice minister – would go so far as to suggest that certain High Court decisions not be honored, Ohana answered “yes.” “The supreme consideration,” he said, employing a play on the adjective, “must be to safeguard the lives of [Israeli] citizens.”
Nor did Ohana skip a beat when Segal challenged him to contradict himself in relation to the Supreme Court’s liberalism where the LGBTQ community is concerned. Ohana – a gay father of two – smiled and shook his head, while telling Segal that the most important strides in LGBTQ rights were made in the Knesset – the legislative body – not the judiciary. Which is as it should be in a democracy.
Following the interview, Ohana clarified on social media that he had not meant to propose disregarding all regular court rulings, but rather those surrounding “extreme” cases – such as the murder of the Hatuel family.
“The first responsibility of every country is the safety and well-being of its citizens, before anything that sounds good or photographs well,” he wrote. In a “necessary restatement of the obvious,” he added, “court decisions must be honored. I have always [followed this credo], and it is what I believe. Israel is a democracy under the banner of the rule of law, and such it will remain.”
The question of the courts’ overreach is only a fraction of what causes apoplexy among Ohana’s detractors, however. His staunch defense of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, for example – which he was instrumental in drafting – is another hot-button issue over which he is given the cold shoulder.
Yet another is his long-standing support for legislation that would grant immunity from prosecution for a sitting prime minister, which has elicited cynical claims of his being a “suck up to Bibi.”
NONE OF THE above ideology, or criticism of it, is unusual for a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. But Ohana is placed in a special category of his own. Being an openly gay man who has spent the past three and a half years sharing the Knesset plenum with Orthodox Jews and Arabs will do that, or so one would think. Yet, as it happens, that’s not where Ohana gets most of the flak. No, his angriest defamers are far-Left members of the LGBT community, who consider him a traitor to the cause.
This is ridiculous, of course. But then, few people are as hypocritical as radicals whose agenda includes portraying Israel as a homophobic apartheid state that “pinkwashes” its abuse of Palestinians by pointing to its human and gay rights record.
As an outspoken critic of this obscenely false depiction of his country – a haven for Palestinian gays fleeing the tortures of their genuinely oppressive, intolerant and homophobic society – Ohana naturally raises the hackles of those who spread the propaganda like poison, and who provide fodder for Israel’s enemies abroad. You know, those who campaign for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement to delegitimize the Jewish state. Even to the point where they don’t want Israelis participating in their gay Pride parades. There’s irony for you.
Ohana’s answer to Segal about this paradox of intersectionality was characteristically on target. “[The Left] would rather have the Right be dark,” he said. “It’s more convenient for them to serve as the forces of light against the forces of darkness.”
Indeed, contrary to a common misconception, Ohana’s gay pride is of little interest or consequence to his supporters on the Right, while the pride he takes in himself – as “a Jew, an Israeli, a Mizrahi, a homosexual, a Likudnik, a hawk, a liberal and a proponent of a free-market economy” – is a source of consternation and disgust among left-wingers who share his sexual orientation.
The above rainbow of the many different aspects of Ohana’s life and background that cause his critics to cringe was incorporated into his inaugural address to the Knesset in December 2015, in the presence of his partner, children and his immigrant parents from Morocco. During the speech, Ohana tried to illustrate how the order of his priorities shifts, depending on the circumstances.
“When a Jew is persecuted with [Arabic] shouts of ‘itbah al yahud’ [‘slaughter the Jews’], I am first and foremost a Jew,” he explained. “When [Sephardi] culture is minimized or dismissed, I am a Mizrahi. When Israeli security forces are slandered, I am a soldier. When a young girl is stabbed to death during a parade about love and tolerance, I am a homosexual who isn’t [sitting around] waiting for the day to come, but one who stands up and brings it on.”
THIS ATTITUDE is what struck me personally the first time I encountered Ohana in 2012 in Tel Aviv, at an event hosted by the LGBTQ faction of Likud. At the time, I was researching the Israeli gay community on behalf of a conservative American philanthropist interested in donating to LGBTQ groups. My role, as I made clear from the outset, would be to steer him away from the anti-Zionist, self-hating ones.
Prior to entering the venue to hear Ohana speak, I ran into an old friend – a journalist from a left-wing paper – sitting at an adjacent café with a gay colleague. When I told them about the project I was working on, the colleague scoffed.
“There’s no such thing as a right-winger who supports the gay community,” he said. I replied that only a leftist could be so ignorant of the meaning of liberalism, and hurried off to listen to Ohana.
His brilliance, elegance and charisma made me quietly bemoan that he wasn’t among my party’s representatives in the Knesset. When he finally did become an MK – after the resignation of interior minister Silvan Shalom left an open Likud slot – I told everyone who asked my opinion that Ohana was headed for a well-deserved, bright future.
I was therefore relieved when he won a realistic spot in the Likud primaries ahead of the April 9 general election. In time, I thought, he will move slowly to a position from where he might head the party one day. You know, if and when Netanyahu ever steps down, gets voted out or reaches 120 – years, that is, not Knesset seats.
Little did I imagine that fate – in the form of political sabotage on the part of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, and the firing of now former justice minister Ayelet Shaked – would catapult Ohana to a top cabinet post.
The participants in last week’s Jerusalem Pride parade who booed and heckled him when he joined the march only increased my cheer at his appointment. Their shouts of “shame, shame” and “not here” reminded me of a Jerusalem Post radio interview I conducted in the 1990s with a leading member of the Orthodykes, a lesbian group based in Efrat.
She told me that the Orthodox community was far more accepting of her lesbianism than her fellow “dykes” – and “liberal” American parents – were of her religious observance. Ohana would not be the least bit surprised by this revelation. He undoubtedly has been dealing with tolerance tyrants and bad-faith arguments since long before he came out of the closet as a Likudnik.
Summing up his attitude towards the prejudice of the Left, Ohana told The New York Times earlier this month that “being attracted to men doesn’t mean you have to believe in creating a Palestinian state.”
Considering that homosexuality is punishable by death in Gaza and gay rights are non-existent in the Palestinian Authority, I would have been less diplomatic. In fact, it is unfathomable for any champion of human rights, gay or otherwise, to support the further empowerment of despotic regimes that would imprison Ohana before allowing him in their parliaments.
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