Middle Israel: Oy gay!

It is only natural that Israel also play simultaneously pioneer and laggard on the gay rights front.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Few countries can offer Israel's routine confusion of modernity and primitiveness, sanctity and profanity, heat and frost. Where else can one proceed so quickly from a bald desert's baking sunshine to a chilly ski resort's Alpine slalom tracks, from a nuclear physicist's lab to an honor-killer's jail cell, or from a solemn pilgrims' parade down the Via Dolorosa to a deafening trance party awash with alcohol, drugs and sex? It is therefore only natural that Israel also play simultaneously pioneer and laggard on the homosexuality front, where recent events demonstrated that even while we face Hamas in the south, Hizbullah in the north and Iran in the east, the Jews can still find time, and reason, to fight each other as well. Considering that Israeli leaders remain reluctant to allow a gay parade in their capital, and that it's been less than two decades since a pre-statehood legal ban of homosexuality was formally lifted, people tend to think Israel's stance on homosexuality is closer to the Middle East than to Europe. That's unfounded. ALREADY IN the state's first years, state attorney Haim Cohn decided to ignore the law he was hired to enforce, and refrained from pressing charges on the conduct of homosexual relations between consenting adults. While this passivity was formally in line with the state attorney's job description, which is to decide whether a particular infringement of the law should actually be followed with an indictment, it also clearly stretched its limits. Still, the precedent was thus set early on, and the Jewish state indeed never tried anyone for having homosexual sex, even when this was nominally illegal. This, Middle Israelis applaud. Back when I was news editor I would encounter every once in a while a wire photo from Cairo showing homosexuals being arrested en masse. Then of course there was Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian leader whose way to contain his talented deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, was to accuse him of sodomy and jail him for that alleged "crime." While following those stories from Egypt and Malaysia, I was always proud of old Haim Cohn's wisdom and courage, which were even more striking considering that he protected the gays while he was himself an observant Jew. In fact, whenever asked by American Jews what they can do about the Middle East's treatment by the media, I say they can prod America's powerful gay lobby to confront the homophobic Arab regimes, and to contrast what happens there with what happens here. Think about it; in ultra-liberal New York's Greenwich Village, police raided a gay bar as recently as spring '69. Now such businesses operate freely in all of Israel's big cities, including Jerusalem, just like gays here join the army and the Foreign Service. As for that Manhattan gay bar - Stonewall Inn - its patrons fought back that fateful day in '69, and touched off other riots which eventually bred the gay-rights movement. In due course, that anniversary generated New York's annual "gay pride" celebration. This is also where the gay parade idea originated. We Jews reflexively sympathized with them as victims of prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Yet since the heady days when gays were fighting for their safety and dignity, the gay cause has come a long way; having completed the defensive part of its struggle, it has moved to the offensive. This is also where the gays begin to lose a growing number of straights. THE GREAT gay offensive is targeting the public domain - the vast realm that lies between law, government and norms. What began with very legitimate demands to place gays in high-profile public office later proceeded to demands for an emancipation of the non-heterosexual couple. If man and woman are allowed a state-paid rabbi, went the logic, why not offer the same to a pair of men, and if a married man and woman receive this or that mortgage aid, why shouldn't a pair of women, and if a male-female couple is entitled to child allowances, why not the children of a pair of transvestites? These are indeed tough questions that tolerant people will find difficult to dismiss lightly. However, gays would do well to realize that what may be fine morally is not necessarily so socially, let alone politically. Socially, the heterosexually-based family cell remains what it always was and always will be: mankind's foundation. To understand what happens when that is tinkered with, just look to Europe. There, the historic family cell has been for several generations under fierce attack by factors such as selfishness, anti-clericalism, work-worship and gay expansionism, as insinuated in a recent Time magazine story. While no one actually declared war on the traditional family, the result is negative birthrates. Even Europeans by now understand there is a relationship between their demographic degeneration and the entry, by Muslim immigrants they don't want, into the vacuum created by Europe's growing abandonment of the historic family cell. Gay expansionists will say to this that they neither cause nor even espouse the extinction of the historic family cell. But the fact is that many think they effectively threaten it. To them, the gay offensive on the public domain is a problem, because while they respect everyone's right to be gay, and while what's being done to gays in Egypt makes them vomit, they also don't want their children growing up thinking that gay marriage is an option on a par with marrying a member of the opposite sex. Politically, the universal gay struggle's rapidly expanding momentum is getting on too many people's nerves, and a pro-family backlash is only a matter of time, as part of the post-liberal era will sooner or later dawn on Europe. In Israel, the gay-parade commotion we have just been through is an aspect of this conundrum. Rather than bask in what they have already gained, Israel's gays think they should remain on the offensive. That is what made them bring to Jerusalem a provocation largely backed and manned by the very circles who have long ago abandoned Jerusalem to the devices of ultra-Orthodoxy. Had any of these self-styled pilgrims come here not for a three-hour parade, but for a lifetime, Middle Israelis would have lent them an ear, but when they come here just to stir the air and fan this sorry town's famously eternal flames, they lose even the capital's sober, tolerant and worldly secularists - people whose entire existence in this city adds up to a Sisyphean search for a balance between the minority's rights and the majority's interests. People whose role models are not this or that ignorant Tel Avivian celebrity, but noble Jerusalemite liberals; people like Haim Cohn.