Batya Brownstein

LGBT rights vs. parental rights in today’s Israel

In recent days, a story has broken about a child attending a religious public school in Givat Shmuel who was placed in his class without the knowledge of other parents.

Opinions and accusations were fired in short order, along all one million sides of the Israeli politial and religious aisles.

While this is an ongoing and developing story, it is at the focus of Israeli traditional and social media, with MKs being interviewed left and right, careful not to align themselves with the radical right and cooperating with the buzz words and catch phrases so prevalent in the mainstream media. These include “transphobia”, “right to privacy”, “protesting against the child” and more.

These determinations are so automatic and so pandering that I’d like to take a few minutes to redirect the focus of the discussion, from easy demagogy and virtue signalling to perhaps other perspectives which while less popular, are no less important and are vital to a society which places family at its heart.

A great many parents in Israel, religious or otherwise, choose to send their children to publically funded religious schools- Mamad, as they’re known, which stands for Chinuch Mamlachti Dati, or religious state education. While not all of these schools incorporate gender division in the classroom, the majority do, and this is usually the main factor when the time comes for a religious family to pick a school for their children.

Generally speaking, when a parent sepcifically chooses to excercise their right to place their child in an educational system which reinforces the values of their home and chooses a learning environment for their children which accomodates their religious, social or other family values- there are inherently certain expectations of that system.

There are usually additional tuition costs involved, sometimes parents choose schools in other cities, but regardless of the difficulties associated with sending one’s child for religious schooling- this discussion comes down to the simple matter of parental autonomy as a concept generally, and in Israel specifically. Far from merely accomodating the needs of its greater religious community, Israel has deliberately developed an educational system with parallel religous and secular routes. One is not more valuable than the other, and the decision of to which to send one’s children is no more and no less than a state-given right.

On a personal note, my daughter has always attended and will always attend religious and gender mixed institutions. I will also state that I am not religious, in order to eliminate ad hominem responses right off the bat. I raise her with traditional liberal values and open social issues for discussion, even at the ripe age of 5.

That said, the point of this discussion is not whether it is ideal to incorporate trans children in gender-separate institutions. Identical to my right to send my child to separate schooling is the right of parents to send their children for mixed schooling, but that’s not really the point either.

The discussion should revolve around the somehow controversial fact that as a parent, I have the right to raise my child however on this conceivable earth I see fit, barring abuse (instances of which there is absolutely no reason to bring into this discussion).

To reiterate: if I specifically chose to send my child to a gender-separate school, which again, is a state-given right, there are certain inherent expecatations of the system in which I chose to place them.

Maybe some parents don’t care that their child has a trans classmate, and maybe some do. But they do have the right to know. The right to privacy and protected identity aside, the same way that the expectation from any state school is that your child will learn math, in a religious state school the expectation is that your child will study alongside members of their own sex (and this has nothing to do with the debate of sex vs. gender).

It is their right to know, because it is their right to choose which institution their child will attend. In this country, it is their right to choose a school which was intentionally designed to reflect their home’s values.

We’re not globally isolated from social developments and trends worldwide, and the fact is that we live in a time where in certain countries, it is now a criminal offense not to castrate your toddler at their behest.

As wiser people in the world of political commentary have stated before me, when politicians choose to turn parents into an interest group, they’ve lost the war. This is especially true in a country whose wider society has not yet declared Judeo-Christian values taboo. There’s a reason that Israel is currently one of a shocking two culturally European countries currently reproducing at replacement rates. If you were curious, the other country is Georgia.

Family still lies at the heart of our identity as a state and a nation, and that can be sustainable only when the state and societal pressures don’t presume to dictate how people should parent their children and which decisions are correct according to fleeting contemporary trends.

My heart goes out to this poor child who is undeservedly receiving so much negative attention. With that said, at the core of this issue is his parents’ and the school’s shocking presumption that this violation of other families’ trust and rights by knowingly violating the premise of the educational system which they chose would go under the radar. The issue is in fact the discreet and deliberate injections of social assumptions where they’re not wanted, and where they do not have to be accepted.

We see a lot of talk of freedom from religion as a fundamental facet of the concept of religious freedom, by people who’ve started forgetting that a basic tenet of religious freedom is to practice as one sees fit. In this country, our laws facilitate that, and this saga is an example of willful ingorance in the name of progress, at the expense of those who choose to maintain traditional values- and whose ability to do so are founded in law and in the very identity of the state. Tradition is not a dirty word, and even those who dispute certain principles inherent in traditional Jewish life have no right to deny others their rights to maintain them.

This all comes down to a consistent decline in tolerance for those with whom we disagree, in this case at the expense of people’s basic parental rights. Also in this case, those with whom the mainstream (if media coverage is any indication) disagree are backed by legislation and a status quo which has yet to be broken, and I for one will mourn if it ever is.

About the Author
Born to a French mother and American father, Batya came to Israel at a young age. Upon graduating high school in Israel, she spent her military service in the IDF's Foreign Press Branch. She now studies International Relations and Political Science (B.A.) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives in Jerusalem with her beautiful daughter.
Related Topics
Related Posts