Dozens of Women’s and LGBTQ organizations gathered across from the gates of the Knesset Tuesday demanding that MKs across the political spectrum not allow the formation of a government with parties that promote the hatred of women and LGBTQ people. They protested as the Knesset held its swearing-in ceremony and were joined by various human rights NGOs also demanding that the government not be formed with parties such as Noam and Otzma Yehudit, both parties that ran with the Religious Zionist Party list.
Hundreds of protesters waved Israeli, rainbow, pink and black flags and held signs reading “This is a fight for our lives” and “Women deserve a seat at the table.” Among the organizations involved were many of Israel’s major women’s and LGBTQ groups including: Women’s International Zionist Organization, Na’amat, Women of the Wall, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, The Aguda – The Israel National LGBT Task Force, The Israel Women’s Network, Israel Gay Youth, Rabbis for Human Rights and many more.
“A red line has been crossed in the legitimization of extremist parties by having them in the Knesset,” said event organizers. “These parties promote homophobia, hate women and promise to fight us on every front.
“These people must not make decisions about our lives and we must not give them a place in the coalition and government.”
One protester reminisced about protesting across from the Knesset gates when she was 18 years old and demonstrating against the Kach Party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane and banned in the 90s. “It looks like we didn’t accomplish anything,” she said angrily.
Otzma Yehudit is part of the Religious Zionist Party list and the party is considered the ideological descendant of the Kach Party.
“When I was 18, all the second-generation of Holocaust survivors organized and protested against Kach… I have no words; I am ashamed of what we are letting into the Knesset. I didn’t think I would need to say this on the Eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day,” she said.
Former MK Rachel Azaria told The Jerusalem Post that she was at the protest because of Religious Zionist Party’s policies about women that are “very scary.” She referenced a section of Religious Zionist Party’s platform meant to combat false rape complaints, saying it will harm women and make filing complaints against rapists harder. What is happening, said Azaria, is that Religious Zionist Party “is taking the side of the aggressor.”
Azaria also mentioned the Noam Party’s recent call to “amend” Government Resolution 2331 to reflect “Jewish values” as a reason for attending the protest.
Resolution 2331 was based on UN Resolution 1325, which urges countries to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts.
Many younger protesters expressed fear about how a government including extremist parties could affect them personally.
A 14-year-old protester said that because her mothers and father are gay, she came to the protest in part because she felt attacked. “I know that my parents’ rights are at risk,” she said.
A 20-year-old protester said that she had come to the protest because she is a gay feminist and she is terrified. “I am so scared that we are getting farther away from being an accepting safe place and it terrifies me,” she said referencing Noam’s attitudes towards women and the LGBTQ community.
A 17-year-old protester said that as a woman and member of the LGBTQ community she is scared about what legislation might be passed regarding education in a system she already says does not properly educate students about gender and sexuality.
A few protesters expressed fear for their religious freedoms. Women of the Wall Executive Director Yochi Rappeport told The Jerusalem Post that she feels fear when she thinks about a government with the Noam Party in it. “They will do anything they can to keep women out of decision making and take us back years in terms of equality.
“They want to stop the [egalitarian prayer section at] Robinson’s Arch and take away the little that we have. They are a dangerous movement and can’t be a part of our government.”
A couple who made aliyah from the US 11 years ago also expressed concerns about their ability to practice Judaism in Israel. “We came to a country that we thought was guided by Jewish values and are not seeing that,” they said. “We felt we had more religious freedom in the US than we do in Israel.”
One protester said that the whole thing is shocking. “The thought that there will be racist, misogynistic, fundamentalist MKs… it is upsetting that this is even an option. I’m horrified to think that they could be a part of our government and might be our representatives.”
She summed up her feelings on a hopeful note saying that she is happy to see that so many people came out to protest this.”
Idan Zonshine and Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.