Gay icon Ivri Lider shows Americans a new side of Israel

The Israeli pop star doesn't support the parade, saying activity in the capital should be different.

ivri lider 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ivri lider 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If gay activists in Israel are looking for a popular spokesperson to support the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, Israeli recording artist Ivri Lider may not be the one for the job. Lider, currently touring America as part of an effort to show Americans a side of Israel they may not be familiar with, including what it's like to live in Israel as a gay man, said the possibility of violence in Friday's parade is enough reason not to hold it. He has no interest in pointing fingers and believes instead in the power of "respect." "My personal philosophy is that I respect others even if they don't respect me," Lider said, speaking from San Francisco where he gave one of several performances. "I would love to show those religious guys that hate us that we are different than them, that we respect them even though they don't respect us - that's more powerful than anything else." A parade, Lider acknowledged, may not be the most suitable kind of activism for a city like Jerusalem, which should be treated differently than Tel Aviv. "Of course it's a democracy and we should be able to say whatever we want and wherever, but maybe the activity in Jerusalem should be different," he said. Lider said that though he feels "resentment," he does not feel compelled to "participate in the game... I don't feel it's what I want to do with my life, going around fighting the Orthodox. I will tell every one of them that I respect them even though they don't respect me." When asked to define "respect," Lider said it meant "living together and maybe finding a different way to address gay rights in Jerusalem." Meanwhile, Lider, who will end his tour in New York on Saturday, has been offering Americans across the country a slightly different perspective on Israel and what it is like to be an Israeli gay recording artist. He was invited by Joey Low, founder of Israel at Heart, an organization that brings Israeli college students to America to tour college campuses. "By targeting the leaders of tomorrow and one of the most misinformed groups, we think we can have the greatest impact," the mission statement says. "Accordingly, we think Israel's best ambassadors are likely well-educated students who are fluent in English." Last year, Low expanded the group's mission by sponsoring Israeli musicians to tour the US. First to come were Shotey Hanevuah, then Idan Reichel, and now Lider. A songwriter, composer producer and actor, Lider has written, composed and produced rock hits on gold- and platinum-selling albums and sold out shows in Israel. His fourth album Ze Lo Oto Davar, released last year, featured a 40-piece string orchestra. His awards include Lyricist of the Year, Male Singer of the Year, Best Male Singer and Best Live Show. Israel at Heart's objective is to have Israelis reach as many Americans as possible to inform them about aspects of Israeli life that often get overlooked by the political situation. "The gay issue is not the highest issue on my agenda," Low said. "I care more about the image Israel has." Then again, Low said he recognized an opportunity in Lider to reach yet another sector of American society with his message. "Ivri made a point of speaking about being gay in Israel," Low said. "I thought it was important to show Americans who didn't know anything about Israel, that it is a democracy and people can do what they want." Low recognizes that bringing Lider to speak about homosexuality, among other things, makes a "statement." That is the benefit of being an independent organization, he said. "Traditional Jewish organizations may be too concerned, but I don't really care what people think," Low said. "We do what we think is right. If someone isn't happy, they don't have to be happy with us." Israel at Heart hopes to offer an alternative to young American Jews looking to learn about Israel. "I don't pay so much attention to traditional Jewish organizations because I don't feel they represent me," Low said. "They are very old fashioned, very stodgy and they never have anything new. That's one of the reasons Israel is suffering, it's so isolated and it needs new ways to reach out." Unlike the more traditional Jewish organizations in America, Israel at Heart is not afraid to speak up about controversial issues, according to Low. "The Jewish leadership won't get involved in things that are controversial," Low said. "They are always looking to get financial support and always worry about what they are doing so they never do anything." Low said Israel at Heart is not "reckless," but can afford to openly support Lider. "We can stand up and say he is gay, let him sing and come here just like anyone else, and if I can help him and encourage him, I am proud." Lider is visiting New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, performing but also meeting with groups of Americans to talk about Israel. "I have been meeting people who don't know about Israel, trying to explain and open their eyes and sometimes even change their opinions," Lider said. "Americans don't know what to expect, they don't think of Israel as a cool, fun, liberal place, the other side of Israel that they don't get on the news." And though Lider is talking about homosexuality in Israel, this does not seem to be his focus. "Of course I'm talking about being gay, but also about being young, living in Tel Aviv, music and culture." Something Lider likes about Tel Aviv is that "you can be gay without making a fuss about it. I think it's a good thing and something that, in the end, everyone aspires to."