Right-wing politicians to LGBT activists: Tolerance has to go both ways

Right complains of intolerance at anti-violence rally after organizers cancel Bennett’s appearance and Steinitz was booed.

Anti violence rally in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti violence rally in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Right-wing politicians on Sunday lamented the antagonism they faced from LGBT activists, following an anti-violence rally in Tel Aviv’s Gan Meir park the previous night.
The demonstration’s organizers canceled Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s planned appearance, citing a “belligerent crowd” in a text message to the Bayit Yehudi leader, and soon after, when Yinon Magal, an MK from his party, tried to speak in Bennett’s stead, he was not allowed to take the stand.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Likud, was booed incessantly during his speech and protesters waved red-stained gloves at him, which were meant to indicate he had blood on his hands.
Israelis rally against violence
Politicians participating in the rally were asked to sign a letter stating: “I commit in all my public work... to act to prevent incitement to violence... [and to] remember that I also represent the gay community and to act to promote full equal rights for this community.”
Bennett says he supports equal individual rights for all Israelis, including members of the LGBT community, but not gay marriage. However, he wrote on social media Saturday night that the reason he did not sign the letter is that ministers are not supposed to sign petitions. Magal, who is not a minister, also refused to sign the letter, and was not permitted to speak at the rally. The Bayit Yehudi chairman wrote on Facebook late Saturday night that he agreed to speak at the rally because “I am education minister of all Israeli children and because I believe that even if we disagree, we can never, never raise a hand at one another.”
As such, Bennett wrote, after spending Shabbat at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa with his father, who is sick and has been hospitalized for weeks, he began to drive toward the demonstration, and got a message on the way from the organizers telling him not to participate.
In response, he called for Left and Right to unite against violence.
“Differences of opinion are fine; violence never is, at any time, under any circumstances,” Bennett said. “Whoever wants to find me alongside him in the battle for tolerance and human dignity – I will be the first one next to him. Whoever wants to silence my [political] camp will have to face me.
“Tolerance must always go in both directions. I will never accept the attempt to slander the 430,000 wonderful Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria, those who are called ‘settlers.’ There is a foolish attempt to do that at the moment. It will not succeed. Whoever does that is committing the exact same sin of prejudice and incitement... I am proud to stand at the head of a massive camp that believes in the Land of Israel, People of Israel and Torah of Israel and opposes all violence with all its soul, and I am not apologizing for that,” the minister said.
Steinitz, who was one of the first Likud MKs to publicly support gay rights, said of his reception at the rally: “I’m glad I went to speak out against the incitement the community faces. We have differences of opinion, it wasn’t hard to see – I think most accepted me but several dozen at the front booed – but we have one government, one Knesset and one Supreme Court.”
“I’m against attacks on [the LGBT community] and spoke out against it, even if some of them only want to embrace the Left,” the minister told Army Radio. “It’s not that smart to reject half the Knesset and then say you want them to fight for your equality.”
Steinitz said he had not signed the letter given to politicians at the rally for the same reason as Bennett – that ministers do not sign petitions – but that he did not have any problem with its content, so he simply read the letter aloud during his speech.
Anat Nir, a board member of Aguda – The Israel National LGBT Task Force said she saw Steinitz sign the document with her own eyes, which is why he was allowed to speak, but she was unable to produce a copy of it with his signature on it, only a photograph of the minister reading the letter with a pen in hand.
Still, Nir accused Steinitz of a “shameful and crooked act.”
“People always say politicians lie, but it was unpleasant to experience it in such an unambiguous way,” she said.
Amir Ohana, No. 32 on the Likud’s list for the Knesset and head of the party’s LGBT group, called the demonstration “the most hate- filled and intolerant rally against hate and for tolerance that I have ever seen.
“I saw hatred in people’s eyes. I saw violence – toward me and my friends,” he wrote on Facebook. “This happened at the gay community’s demonstration in Tel Aviv.”
As Ohana described it, when it was announced that Bennett would be speaking, members of the crowd screamed and booed and waved faux-blood-stained hands until the organizers said Bennett would be uninvited.
“The community missed a chance for a dialogue with someone who leads a party that maybe wants to make a change and who stands at the head of the ministry with the second-largest budget, after the Defense Ministry, and influences all of our lives,” he wrote.
As for the way Steinitz was treated, Ohana wrote that the minister had a message against violence and for acceptance, but was not allowed to speak because of the shouting, booing and drumming.
When Likud Pride members tried to wave its flags in support, they were met with shouts of “fascists” by people with “eyes full of insanity and hatred, righteous indignation in the name of tolerance, pluralism and love of the other.
“All this, from those who surely consider themselves part of the ‘peace camp,’ the pluralist camp, the tolerant camp. Boo,” Ohana said.
Meanwhile, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) wrote on Facebook that the rally’s organizers “saved Bennett from himself,” because the event was “all about incitement and silencing – incitement against the entire Right.”
The demonstration “incited against anyone who dares to support traditional family values and oppose recognition of same-sex couples,” Smotrich said.
“There is no reason for us to attend a demonstration that is entirely an attempt to encourage and legitimize what a religious party cannot legitimize, because it is against the Torah and Jewish values,” he added. “There is no reason for us to attend a demonstration that is entirely an attempt to silence those who think differently and blame them for acts by insane people to whom we have no connection.”
Among those who oppose the LGBT community, there is one crazy person who was condemned by all, whereas on the LGBT side there is an entire community that attacks and slanders anyone who thinks differently from them, Smotrich said.
“What happened since last weekend is a bizarre, undemocratic witch-hunt against anyone who refuses to get in line with the ‘enlightened Left’s’ political correctness,” he said. “I resolutely oppose violence and promise to oppose recognition of same-sex couples in the Jewish state no less resolutely. I promise to fight violence no less than the attempt to destroy Jewish traditional family values.” MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) responded in a Facebook post to what she called the Bayit Yehudi’s “audacity... to turn themselves into the main victims of the terrible week Israeli society just had.”
Shaffir mocked Bennett and Magal for complaining that they were silenced, saying that they don’t understand that speaking at a demonstration is not a favor they are doing for the LGBT community, but a privilege that has to be earned.
The Zionist Union lawmaker said she stood in the crowd and listened to people, as did other MKs, without expecting to be given a platform, and if Bennett really wanted to show support, he would have done so.
Shaffir called on Bennett to fire any MK in his party from all parliamentary and governmental positions who does not take back homophobic statements, and to support bills to help LGBT people if he wants to show support for them.
“You are acting like an opportunistic politician who only wants to deny his and his party’s responsibility for the bloody events of the last days. I praise your desire to condemn the violence, but between us, it’s easy to issue condemnations. To change reality is the real challenge, and it requires political con - cessions,” she wrote.