Right from Wrong: A (Likud) party to remember

A longtime champion of Likud Pride efforts on behalf of the party, he began his tribute to Cohen by lauding the country’s achievements.

A sign on a Jerusalem bus proclaims, ‘The Likud is strength.’ (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
A sign on a Jerusalem bus proclaims, ‘The Likud is strength.’
(photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)
Just when I was beginning to wonder this week whether the wondrous paradoxes of Israeli society had been drowned to oblivion in pre-election sewage, I attended an event in Tel Aviv that restored my faith in the health of the country. It also reminded me of the reason I am a member of the Likud Party, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will be voting accordingly on September 17.
Netanyahu neither attended the event in question, however, nor was he even the focus of my attention on Tuesday evening. Of course, the fact that he has been keeping Iranian aggression at bay afforded me the luxury to take a short break from obsessing over and writing about the very real and present dangers along our borders.
No, this party was a tribute to Tel Aviv University linguist Dr. Evan Cohen, Netanyahu’s new foreign media adviser. It was a going-away gathering held by Likud Pride – the party’s LBGTQ faction that Cohen headed – to thank him for his years of devoted service to the group, and to welcome his successor, Oded Schwartzberg.
Originally slated for August 8, the party was canceled at the last minute due to the brutal murder that day of 19-year-old yeshiva student and IDF recruit Dvir Sorek, from the Judea and Samaria community of Ofra, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. Like the rest of the country, Likud Pride was in mourning. It was clearly not an appropriate moment to celebrate new beginnings – no matter how starkly the stabbing attack manifested the need to keep a right-wing government in power.
After all, the Left still clings to the false premise that Palestinian terrorism is Israel’s fault. It thus continues to spread the lie that giving more land to the Palestinian Authority, which encourages and pays hefty stipends to terrorists, will make Israelis safe from stabbing, car-ramming, bombing and rocket attacks.
This absurdity was not even mentioned at Cohen’s parting bash, in spite of the presence of and speeches by Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Likud MK Kathy Sheetrit.
Instead, the affair – which took place in a dilapidated branch office in a dank basement, whose air conditioner was no match for the more than 80 sweaty participants – highlighted the accomplishments of the party in general, and those of the Pride faction in particular, over the past decade; you know, the 10 years during which a Netanyahu-led Likud has headed the government.
Ohana, Israel’s first openly gay minister, recounted the early days of his activism, when he discovered that there were many more homosexuals with his political proclivity than he had realized. Cohen was one such individual.
OHANA ALSO described how he brought about a change in the Likud constitution. In its original form, Article 2 declared one of the party’s goals to be: “Maintaining a democratic form of government: guaranteeing the supremacy of law, human and civil rights, freedom of conscience, individual freedoms, equal rights and opportunities of all citizens of the state and preventing discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, status or viewpoint.”
Ohana succeeded, after many meetings with key figures, to persuade the Likud convention to add “sexual orientation” to the list.
Ironically, the emphasis of the evening was on Likud’s true liberalism, based on shared ideas and individuality, as opposed to the identity politics characteristic of the Left as a whole, and certainly of gay left-wingers. Ohana thus stressed that the ultimate aim of Likud Pride is for it to become obsolete. Indeed, the point of Likud is not to perpetuate sectoral, ethnic or other types of victimhood, but to fight for freedom and equal opportunity, and to have political affinities based on those principles.
That Cohen’s going-away gift was a set of the complete works of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, then, was utterly fitting, as was the response of the audience to what happened when Steinitz got up to speak.
A longtime champion of Likud Pride efforts on behalf of the party, he began his tribute to Cohen by lauding the country’s achievements. Suddenly, he was interrupted by loud heckling from someone standing at the back of the room. Because of the friendly nature of the gathering, which was more personal than political, the disruption – which took the form of a “question” aimed at Ohana about the “lack of personal safety” experienced by Israelis of Ethiopian origin – came as a complete surprise.
Naturally, everyone turned around to see who was doing the shouting, and to tell him to be quiet. But he was not alone; he had arrived with two other people, a man and a woman, who proceeded to join in the yelling, while holding out their cellphones to video the commotion that they had come to perpetrate.
Despite much pleading on the part of the ethnically, religiously and sexually diverse crowd, the three intruders – self-declared members of the Israeli-Ethiopian community – persisted.
They demanded “answers” to the phenomenon of “police brutality” that led to what they called the “murder” of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was shot accidentally by an off-duty police officer in Haifa on June 30.
Tekah’s tragic death, which sparked nation-wide protests that often turned violent, has been under serious investigation. The policeman responsible has maintained that he acted in self-defense and on behalf of his wife and children. He claims that Tekah and other boys threw rocks at him and his family when he encountered them engaging in violent behavior, and that he shot at the ground, not at Tekah.
The autopsy and examination of the scene revealed that the bullet had ricocheted off the ground, hitting Tekah, and that Tekah’s DNA was on one of the rocks. This is why the policeman has not been charged with murder. Currently, the legal division of the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) is in the process of deciding whether to charge him with negligent manslaughter or reckless homicide.
Because the PIID is under the auspices of the Justice Ministry, the hecklers had come to the event to badger Ohana to “release the crime-scene footage.”
IT SHOULD be noted here that while many Israelis were livid the demonstrations in the wake of Tekah’s death included the blocking of key intersections and the overturning of cars, most of the public has been sympathetic to the plight of Ethiopians who suffer poor treatment due to the color of their skin. Participants at the event on Tuesday night were no exception. In fact, only a few people in attendance expressed outright hostility to the unwelcome guests, most were only upset by their rude behavior.
One Likudnik actually physically embraced them, announcing that he loves Ethiopian Israelis, and requested warmly that they allow the event to continue. The main heckler responded by shouting that he loves the LBGTQ community, and actually belted out, “Some of my best friends are gay!”
It was one of those priceless “only in Israel” moments that’s hard to put into words.
Meanwhile, the rest of us, including Ohana, opted to remain silent. The hope was that by not engaging with the intruders, they might settle down or go away.
But it was not to be. Every time it appeared that quiet had been restored, the trio got riled up again until someone called the police.
Four men and women in uniform subsequently arrived, but did not force, or even escort, the three disgruntled citizens off the premises. What they did was wait outside, apparently remaining just to keep an eye out for potential escalation – oh, and to chat with the smokers who had exited the chaos for a cigarette break. The only brutality on display was the Tel Aviv heat and humidity.
Finally, it was Cohen’s turn to address the many people who had come to bid him good luck in his new position. After thanking his husband, parents and allies for their unwavering support, he talked about the tough job he has undertaken to make Israel’s case to the international press.
He quoted Netanyahu, who, upon hiring him for the post, quipped, “My condolences.”
He concluded by alluding to the grassroots nature and private enterprise of Likud Pride – which entails the taking of personal responsibility to exact societal change – and by suggesting to the “folks in the back of the room” that they follow suit.
I am not in need of election propaganda to bolster my belief that Israel needs Netanyahu steering the country through the global challenges and those in the immediate vicinity which require the special leadership skills he possesses. But I was sure up for getting an injection of pride (with a lower-case “p”) in the side I’m already on. For this gift, I owe Cohen’s career move a debt of gratitude.