Israel can be proud of many things. Advanced ground breaking technology, the ability to combine the ancient with the modern, cramming people from 82 different countries into a tiny space and citizens that have no less than four opinions on any given subject! But Israelis can truly take pride in the country’s record on gay rights.
Often singled out for approbation by the world’s media, Israel has become the favourite whipping post for those seeking to apportion blame for all the world’s ills. If we are not stealing land and subjugating our neighbours then we are training sharks and birds to become master assassins and spies. Yawn fest anyone?
Here is the straight scoop on Gay Israel. This past Friday, the city of Tel Aviv donned its rainbow flag best and turned into a mass celebration of diversity, tolerance and acceptance as thousands marked Gay Pride. Joined by the city’s Mayor as well as the US Ambassador, leader of the opposition and many other politicians and celebrities, Tel Aviv danced, pulsated, partied and just worked its fabulous self.
LGBT rights in Israel enjoy a reputation as being one of the most developed and progressive in the Middle East and Asia. Gays can openly serve in the military and in government. In fact, discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers in recruitment, placement and promotion is prohibited in Israel. No policy of “don’t ask don’t tell” here! While the right to common law marriage between same-sex couples exists, marriages performed in other countries are recognized. The percentage of support for same sex marriage in Israel is the highest in the world with 61% of Israelis in support. Same-sex couples can adopt children
However, not all sectors of society are as accepting. Israel has diverse and conservative religious communities like the ultra-orthodox, who decry same-sex relationships as “abhorrent” saying that they are not in line with biblical tenets. Being a democracy, Israel tolerates all opinions. Over the last few years a growing number of orthodox gays and lesbians have participated in events like Gay Pride and outreach from organisations like Havruta is helping to create a safe and welcome environment.
All this is in stark contrast to our neighbours. Hundreds of gay men from neighbouring West bank and Gaza seek asylum in Israel for fear of being tortured or lynched in their communities. Other Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon fare no better. Homosexuality is considered taboo in this part of the world. Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, famously declared that “there are no homosexuals in Iran”. He is not far off. The penalty for homosexuality in Iran is imprisonment, torture and in many cases, the death sentence. Most of us remember the visuals of two 17 years old boys hanged for the crime of sexual orientation.
I am confused that organisations like Queers against Apartheid Israel are not speaking out more virulently against the lack of gay rights and human rights abuse in these countries. Forget about calls for the boycotting of Israel that are based on scurrilous accusations and instead advocate for the rights of LGBT in the rest of the Middle East.
Israel is a true rainbow nation. Diverse, inclusive and tolerant. Now that is something to take pride in.