Israel, Enigmas, and Pride

Israel has an enormous amount of problems. Many complicated, multidimensional problems. Notably, Israel’s continued occupation of another people is shameful and embarrassing. Israel is an occupying power, whether by design or by circumstance — and this is a crucial fact that we must recognize, as tough as it might be to swallow. A lot of times, the things that are done to Palestinian people are unfair and quite frankly disgusting. The pro-Israel community within the Diaspora needs to internalize that Israel is far from perfect. The pro-Israel community within the Diaspora, by and large, needs to get a grip. And, as of late, many Israelis, just like many Americans, seem to be quite apathetic about the corruption that has ensnared the politically powerful Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu.

Israel, at its foundation, was meant to be internally different, a light unto the nations, and externally normal, accepted on the international stage. This has not happened, in fact the opposite has happened. Israel, like most other democracies, has its fair share of internal issues, such as poverty, intra-Jewish tensions, high cost of living, hunger, and violence against women. And internationally, Israel’s relative isolation (some, which should be noted, is Israel’s own doing) and abnormality is well documented (the Diaspora definitely overemphasizes the import of these pointless resolutions).

But at at the same time, it’s worth remembering for those who so willingly and unreasonably condemn Israel, of which there are many, that Israel is not a menacing and evil country. It is a place of refuge. Especially for the LGBTQ+ in the Middle East. On Friday, June 8th, Tel Aviv’s 20th pride attracted huge crowds, with over 250,000 people attending.  This parade simply could not have taken place anywhere else in the Middle East. That is a fact. Whether the governments of other Middle Eastern countries would not let a pride parade happen because of archaic laws against the LGBTQ+ community or laws forbidding free expression, or because publicly being a part of the LGBTQ+ community in those countries could mean harm, is irrelevant.

In Israel, the LGBTQ+ community (which I should note, is a community that I am not a part of, although I am an ally) enjoys almost complete equality. Same-sex couples are allowed to adopt, and although same sex marriages are not allowed to be performed in Israel (the ultra religious Rabbinate would never allow that), Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. LGBTQ+ people can openly serve in the military. There is sexual orientation protections in employment and other services and both sexual orientation and gender identity protections in schools. The changing and increasing openness to the LGBTQ+ community is exemplified by groups that 15 years ago, undoubtedly would have shunned anyone who was LGBTQ+. A grandson of a former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, will soon marry a man at a ceremony led by a religious gay woman. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was well known as the Shas party spiritual leader and Israel’s foremost Sephardic halachic authority before he passed away.

That a display of such openness and warmth towards the LGBTQ+ community happened in Israel at that parade on Friday took place is enigmatic. Especially in a regional and historical context.  It is normal and yet, it is also a miracle. Let me explain. This parade was normal in the sense that no one thinks anything of it. Israel treating members of the LGBTQ+ community fairly is like saying the sky is blue. People know this. But that this parade is happening, and happening on such a large scale is also a miracle. It is miraculous and beautiful that the LGBTQ+ community has become so accepted internationally (as I’m writing this, the US men’s soccer team is wearing pride uniforms in a match) in recent years. It is still miraculous that the state of Israel ever existed in the first place, and that it still exists at all. The enemies and detractors that Israel has had to defeat in the 70 years of its existence is a long list. It is miraculous that Israel is a both Jewish and Democratic (although one of these descriptions is legitimately in question as of late) state, where free expression is encouraged. It is miraculous that in the Middle East, there is a country that accepts that LGBTQ+ community.

But like everything with Israel, things get difficult to understand. As wonderful as Israel’s relationship is towards the LGBTQ+ community, the way those moral policy stances are used is saddening. Israel’s acceptance and openness to the LGBTQ+ community is used as a political tool. Many in the Diaspora pro-Israel community bastardize that acceptance and openness for their own political agendas, usually seeking to mislead the public and keep down the Palestinians. It is always insidious, used as a tool to shift focus away from Israel’s screw-ups. Every time that a group like StandWithUS or The Israel Project or AIPAC shares information about Israel and LGBTQ+ equality, it is toned in such a disingenuous way that it is not even worth taking seriously. The eagerness with which these groups, and others like it, wish to show just how LGBTQ+ friendly Israel is is most likely meant to fend off condemnation of its less than stellar record of treatment towards the Palestinians. Israel’s acceptance and openness is used as a club to beat back and mitigate the critiques that Israel receives. That this happens, and with such rigorous bad faith, is predictable and sad.

Israel has done bad things, especially to Palestinians. These things, which seem to be increasing as of late, should not be forgotten. And people should understand and welcome the (reasonable and good faithed) criticism that Israel receives. But, do not forget that at its heart, Israel is a good country, striving to better itself, with an important mission – a mission, which is laid out in Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence to “…uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex… to guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture.”

About the Author
Brett L. Kleiman is currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he studies political science and international relations. He is a research intern at the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and is also the president of the Emory Democrats. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Brett attended The Robert M Beren Academy for 12 years. From September 2015 to June 2016 Brett lived in Israel through Young Judaea's gap year program, Year Course. Brett is interested in Israel, America, diplomacy, podcasts, Game of Thrones, The Wire, politics, reading, sports, and peace.
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