Arab MK: LGBTQ rights are human rights, Arab community is evolving

"We know well what it means to fight for the most basic of rights."

The rainbow flag, commonly known as the gay pride flag or LGBT pride flag, is seen during the first Gay Pride parade in Skopje, North Macedonia June 29, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI)
The rainbow flag, commonly known as the gay pride flag or LGBT pride flag, is seen during the first Gay Pride parade in Skopje, North Macedonia June 29, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI)
Joint List MK and Welfare Committee Head Aida Touma Suleiman said that "gay rights are human rights" adding that the Arab "community gets one step closer every day to acceptance," in a Facebook post Thursday evening.

Suleiman made the post in response to a wave of criticism among Arab Israelis to a tahini brand's decision to provide financial support to an LGBTQ+ emergency hotline in Arabic, operated by the Israeli Association for LGBTQ+ rights (The Aguda).

"The Tahinet el Arz brand made an estimable, brave decision to establish with us a support hotline for the Arab LGBTQ+ community," The Aguda wrote on Twitter. "The initiative was met with a negative reaction on social media as well as calls for its boycott," they added.

"Do not let hate and incitement win - sign our support petition and buy Tahinet el Arz!" The Aguda said.

"I have just spoken to [el Arz CEO] Julia Zahr, who saw it as her obligation to society and to her community to financially support victims of homophobia and those in need of an emergency hotline for gay people in distress who face threats due to their sexual orientation," Suleiman wrote on Facebook.

Zahr's decision to support LGBTQ+ in need "is a brave message to our community and a clear announcement that gay rights are human rights," the politician added.

"Known for her generous support of multiple humanitarian initiatives and a partner in several volunteer NGOs, including [a] fund for people with special needs, Julia Zahr now stands before a hurtful campaign only for deciding to take on herself to spread love, acceptance of others and support of the disadvantaged."

Another Joint List politician, MK Mansour Abbas, a representative of the Islamic Movement, sparked controversy several months ago while advocating for conversion therapy to LGBTQ+ youth, in an interview with Walla News.

"I think the state should find a suitable environment that would provide help to such people," Abbas said. "It is important that the authorities provide an appropriate treatment for appropriate behavior."

Seeking to represent all groups in Israel's Arab community, the Joint List consists of four parties and is the third-largest faction in the Knesset as of July 2020. While communist Hadash and anti-Zionist Balad have promoted pro-LGBTQ+ legislation, Islamist Raam has opposed it and Secular-Arab Taal remained ambiguous.

"Unfortunately, I am well aware that the sounds of the attack [on Julia Zahr] are not temporary," Suleiman wrote on Facebook Thursday evening. "But I also know that our community gets one step closer every day to accepting others and their personal spaces."

According to Suleiman, the Arab community "knows all too well the meaning of being persecuted and suffering from discrimination of the dominant discourse of the majority. We know well what it means to fight for the most basic of rights."

It is "way better for us to direct our discourse against organized crime and the surging violence in our community. We are better off respecting the rights of disadvantaged minorities within us," Suleiman added.

"Yes, in the garden of pluralism there is place for all of us. We should always remember that equality [for some] is equality [for all]."