Yahad and the danger of sectarianism

While the advertisements astonished many, as a gay man myself, none of this was the least bit surprising for me.

February 23, 2019 21:03
4 minute read.
Yahad and the danger of sectarianism

A man displays national flag of Israel as supporters of Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro gather outside the Planalto Palace ahead of Bolsonaro's swear-in ceremony, in Brasilia, Brazil, January 1, 2019. . (photo credit: SERGIO MORAES / REUTERS)


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"So that there will not be a child with two fathers.”

This jarring slogan was at the center of a campaign initiative by supporters of the Yahad party. The ad campaign decorated the streets of this great nation starting last week and caused a flurry of responses on social media.

Labor MK Merav Michaeli asked on Twitter, “How much fear and hate must a person have to run such a campaign?” while Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid clapped back at the man whose face is prominently featured on the ad, Eli Yishai, saying: “With a father like you, preferably not.”

While the advertisements astonished many, as a gay man myself, none of this was the least bit surprising for me. For one thing, portraying gay men as a danger to children is about as fresh an idea as the week-old challah sitting on Yishai’s countertop.

Moreover, fear mongering about the dangers of a minority population without fact is unfortunately a regular occurrence in human history.

Whether it’s the LGBT community, Jews, or any other underrepresented population on the world stage, politicians have always spun fictional apocalypses by weaponizing minority communities for political gain. The fact that this tactic is being used today is therefore no more a surprise than the unfortunate fact that this political drivel is still effective.

Additionally, it does not even deserve the dignity of a response, as the purveyors of this repackaged age-old homophobia wouldn’t care that overwhelmingly scientific evidence suggests that there is no discernible difference in the outcome of children of same-sex relationships in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts.

However, what does warrant a reaction is the consistent exploitation of the LGBT community as a political chess piece. For years, our community has been trotted around like some political trophy wife to prove the state’s liberal nature while simultaneously ignoring our needs.

Over and over again this country has used the LGBT community as a rainbow puppet talking point and disregarded our demand for equality. This includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitting that his position as prime minister superseded my rights as a citizen during the surrogacy controversy last year; the failure to designate hate crimes against LGBT people as such; and the catastrophic negligence exhibited by the Jerusalem Police in failing to protect the Pride Parade in 2015 from a known violent bigot that resulted in the killing of an innocent girl.

Being the LGBT-rights capital of the Middle East is the lowest of all conceivable barometers and whether our existence is used to stoke fear or as a public-relations tool, this predicament leaves people in my community feeling lost on who to support this coming election.

One of my best friends, a right-wing LGBT person himself, shocked me the other week when he admitted he was planning to vote for Meretz this coming April.

I pushed him and asked why he would vote for a party that did not represent his values in any way, to which he responded that it was the only party that would fight for our rights as LGBT people.

Just as the Haredim and right-wing religious Zionists get their needs addressed by backing a party built for them, so too, we must vote for parties that represent our community in government.

In my mind there are two significant problems with this approach. One, it creates small and divided parties, the kind that politicians like Netanyahu count on to split the public’s opposition vote.

The second is that by splitting the public into various interest groups, elections produce lawmakers that are interested only in the well-being of their identity-based constituency. In other words, this breeds a generation of politicians that value their particular group over the well-being of the state and that is a recipe for disaster.

Good statesmanship requires compromise, a brand of politics determined to better the future and an understanding that country comes before everything.

Sectarianism, however, stymies compromise, focuses almost exclusively on immediate gratification of the constituency and puts the country second to the group agenda.

Additionally, sectarianism denies a self evident human truth that people are more than their identities. I am more than what gender I am attracted to and it is appalling that at times I feel as if I have to choose between my rights as a gay man and my genuine political philosophy. Is there no world where I can value my nation’s security and its Jewish character and at the same time demand equal rights?

There is no reason to vote for Meretz if I don’t believe what they stand for and there is no pride in a system that forces people to choose between being traitors to their communities or to themselves.

True freedom is the ability to vote not out of fear but out of pride. To pick parties that represent not our sectarian groups but the values and thinking that we espouse. Democracy is the bold idea that all people are created in the image of God and can work together to build a country as equals.

This tribalist, identity politics war not only reduces people to flags and slogans, it pits Israelis against each other and that formula has never worked out well for the Jewish people. Ironically, while we don’t need Eli Yishai, what we do need is true Yahad (unity).

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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