Confusing Israel

Sometimes a small news story can highlight a deep and widespread reality.

Yesterday, Haaretz published a short piece about the growth of gay and lesbian clubs in the major political parties. Headlined, “Israel’s gay community making inroads into political mainstream,” the piece dwelt briefly on the apparent dissonance between the gay rights agenda and right-wing politics.

The reporter, Ophir Bar-Zohar, opens with the context:

After years during which the gay community’s struggles were associated with the left-wing parties and only Meretz and Hadash had gay divisions, over the past year three centrist parties have joined the pink wave.

She then gives voice to some highly-educated young Likud activists who reject the idea that there is any dissonance between right-wing politics and gay rights. Renana Leviani, for example, is the membership director of Pride in the Likud, a doctoral student in philosophy, and the product of “a right-wing, religious home”:

Returning to the Likud was going home, being lesbian and also right-wing – the person who I really am…. There are among us left and right, just like everywhere else. If they put a ballot box at a women’s party, the right will win just as it did in the Knesset election, but the party’s organizer will probably be from the radical left.”

This is great journalism, because it offers us a small window into a larger conundrum.

On the one hand, the Israeli electorate, on both political and religious questions, has been gravitating to the right in recent years. On the other hand – and simultaneously – the live-and-let-live attitude that characterizes most Israelis’ feelings on most social issues has also gained ground. Israelis are simultaneously growing more God-fearing and more gay friendly. They are more accepting of Palestinian statehood than in the past, but also less trusting of peace overtures.

It’s often hard for reporters, especially from overseas, to get at this complexity. Israeli public opinion can be confusing at first glance. So we are in dire need of journalism that takes us past our expectations and shows us this ambivalence. Without it, you can’t really understand Israelis.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.