The winner of Monday’s Labor Party primary, MK Itzik Shmuli, might not get to vote in the April 9 election, but he has a very good, labor-related excuse.
The election, which was advanced by seven months, falls around the due date for the son being delivered by a surrogate mother in Boston for Shmuli and his partner, Ron.
Shmuli and Ron intend to be there for the birth, and the MK is still negotiating with his party how to divide his time until then between Boston and the campaign trail.
“My two dreams of being a parent and helping Israel are coming true and connecting with each other, giving me the happiest feelings in the world,” Shmuli told The Jerusalem Post at Labor’s Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday.
A law passed in July permits surrogacy for single women and lesbians after state support was previously given only to married heterosexual couples. But on October 31, the Knesset rejected Shmuli’s bill, which would have expanded eligibility for state-supported surrogacy to include single men and gay male couples.
It was revealed only recently that Shmuli was already expecting children through the surrogate in a dramatic moment at the Knesset when Shmuli turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and asked him why his policies prevent him from becoming a father.
“Mr. Prime Minister, look me in the eye and tell me: Why can [former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin] Yigal Amir be a dad and I can’t?”
Netanyahu responded that he himself supported the bill but could not pass it, due to the opposition of his haredi (ultra-Orthodox) coalition partners. Shmuli did not accept Netanyahu’s inability to keep his commitments to equality, noting that polls have found that there is a majority in favor or equal parenting rights among Likud voters.
“I have been satisfied with life for years, but I felt something important was missing,” Shmuli said.
“Others can take for granted that they can be called Dad, but for me, it was a remote dream. It is sad that it’s the country I love and contribute to so much that was stopping me from achieving that dream, just because we have a government that does not consider me worthy of equal rights.”
Three months ago, that dream appeared even more challenging, because the woman bearing Shmuli’s children lost one of their twins. The remaining fetus is considered in danger, and Shmuli said he prays for good news.
“This is a time of nervous expectations,” he said. “Whenever I get a text message from America, I have to prepare myself before opening it.”
The surrogate mother has become like family to the expectant dads; they sent Christmas gifts to her four children.
They were especially happy to hear that Shmuli received the most votes in the primary, earning him the second slot on the Labor list – if Labor leader Avi Gabbay does not select another candidate for the slot and bump him to third.
Shmuli and Ron have had to pay some NIS 700,000 so far for the process of having the child, draining all their savings. He said mediators know they can charge a lot, because gay couples who desperately want a child have no other way of getting one.
Although they have been together since 2011, Shmuli and Ron do not intend to get married before having the child. Shmuli said that they would get registered as a married couple if it would help the legal process, but said, “We don’t need anyone’s authorization to validate us as a couple.”
Shmuli said his Jewish identity is important to him but lamented that he does not feel the haredi rabbinical establishment in Israel that has distanced itself from him is particularly enlightened.
“I’m as Jewish as anyone, but Judaism in Israel has become harsh – and is not my Judaism of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” he said.
Shmuli said that it’s not just Election Day that is important for him not to miss, but also Labor’s campaign, which will focus on him due to his popularity. In the primary, 28,865 of the 33,700 voters cast ballots for him – more than 85%.
“It was wonderful to see how so many people respect my work in the Knesset and put their trust in me,” he said. “The dozens of bills that I have struggled to pass have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens.”
Shmuli credited his advisers and hundreds of volunteers all over country. He praised his fellow Labor candidates as fighters for the issues that matter.
“Our primary was very good news for the people,” he said. “And there is more good news on the way.”