BERLIN – The alumni association of Birthright Israel placed a mural in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood last week, which juxtaposed the rights of gays in Israel with criminal penalties for gays in such countries as Syria and Iran.The mural, which appears on a wall in a parking lot in Greenwich Village, has unleashed a mixed set of views on contrasting Israel’s record on gay rights with those of Muslim-majority countries that are violently hostile toward same-sex relations.The mural was launched on Friday and shows the outlines of two men holding hands. It poses the question above the men: “Who would YOU want at your wedding?” The couple hold two balance scales. The pro-Israel scale contains a text saying “Same sex couples can legally adopt children, gay people serve openly in the military and government” and more than 10,000 attended the 2011 Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade.The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Stuart Appelbaum, a leading gay rights activist in New York and head of the Jewish Labor Committee, wrote, “The mural is a visible reminder of the realities of life for members of the LGBT communities in the Middle East. Israel is unquestionably the most accepting society for LGBT people – both Arabs and Israelis – in the region. Israel-bashers who refuse to acknowledge this reality, resent the mural. The mural demonstrates that the truth can often get in the way of their opinions.”Yoav Sivan, an Israeli journalist living in New York who writes for the biweekly publication Gay City News, told the Post on Sunday, “Those behind the mural may have meant well, but they ended up belittling and patronizing Israel and Israeli activists.Ambassador [to the US Michael] Oren got it right when he said that the comparison with Israel’s neighbors is a very low bar. Next time choose a more challenging bar for us to aspire. That would show your respect to Israel.” According to the New York Times City Room blog last week, Keren Gelfand, senior press officer for the Israeli Consulate, confirmed to the Times “that all of the statements in the mural regarding gay rights in Israel were accurate.The scale for “Israel’s neighbors,” notes that Iran punishes homosexuality with death and same-sex relations are illegal in Syria. The text continues that “There is no pride parade in Egypt, Jordan or Gaza.”In an email to
Israel does not allow same-sex marriage, but it recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad.”Jayson Littman, the founder of He’bro, an organization that promotes events for secular and cultural gay Jews in New York City, wrote the Post on Sunday,” I applaud Birthright for bringing awareness to Israel’s gay rights movement, but we must remember: Gay rights in Israel were fought and won in the Supreme Court by LGBT activists over the years. Rights were not given on a silver platter. Also, we must be more aware to compare Israel’s progressiveness on gay rights to Western countries as Europe and the USA and not extreme regimes such as Iran or Syria. That is where the scale should be measured against.”The City Room Blog entry titled “A West Village Mural Weighs Gay Rights in the Middle East” quoted the Birthright Israel alumni community director, Rebecca Sugar, saying “Israel is often attacked and maligned for things that aren’t true. There is only one country in the Middle East where you can live freely, as you are. The surrounding countries who accuse Israel of prejudice and bias are prejudiced and biased.”The Times cited Adem Carroll, a member of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition for Truth and Justice, who slammed the mural as “blatantly divisive, opposing Israel against its neighbors in the region.”Meanwhile, Iran has stepped up its public executions of gay men over the past two months. According to media reports, one gay man was hanged in April and four men charged with sodomy are slated to be hanged. Last week, the British-based NGO Small Media released a report, “LGBT Republic of Iran: An Online Reality” The study reveals how the “repressive Iranian regime" uses the Internet to entrap LGBT Iranians.