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We’re here, we’re queer, don’t mind us

Rising anti-gay themes in public life should spur Israel's LGBT community to jump into the political fray

If there is something that distinguishes the 2013 Israeli elections from previous ones, it is the amount of politicians which have addressed the issue of LGBTs’ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) acceptance into Israeli society. In the past few months a number of candidates from various right wing oriented parties have felt the need to express their opinions on the issue of the inclusion, or exclusion, of LGBTs from various national institutions such as the IDF or their right to marry.

One of the most vocal opponents of the Israeli gay community is Moshe Feiglin, a candidate for the next Knesset from the ruling Likud party. In the past, Mr. Feiglin has stated that inhabitants of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have nowhere to run to when the disgusting gay pride parade marches past their homes. Feiglin has also expressed a fear that open homosexuals might lead to the crumbling of the IDF and has even referred to himself as a proud homophobe. 

When examining the voting record of Feiglin’s Likud party a disturbing image comes to light. In the past four years the party has blocked important pro gay legislation such as a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference and an amendment that would allow same sex marriage.

Of course anti gay rhetoric is not limited to Mr. Feiglin or the Likud party. Yair Shamir, son of former PM Yitzhak Shamir and number two on the Israel Beytenu party list, believes that there is no place for same-sex marriages in Israel. Members of the Shas party, a senior partner in the Netanyahu coalition, routinely refer to homosexuals as sick people or deviants and Uri Arieli, a veteran member of the Knesset and candidate from the trendy Jewish Home party, has recently stated that homosexuals who flaunt their sexual preferences should not be enlisted into the IDF. This is in stark contradiction to Mel Brooks’ famous line from the musical The Producers, “if you’ve got it flaunt it!” It is also in contradiction to the way of life adopted by the majority of Israeli LGBTs, who feel no need to hide their sexual orientation. 

Yet despite being a proud community, the Israeli gay community is also a silent one. It has not organized itself as a political powerbase or created an influential lobby that would act to promote legislature securing its civil rights. In addition, it has not joined the existing political establishment in order to back openly gay candidates running for office.

The fact that the gay community is not a part of Israel’s political landscape is fascinating when taking into account the Americanization of Israeli politics. This process manifests in various ways such as a shift in voting patterns among Israelis who no longer vote for parties but for people and the introduction of aggressive lobbying to the Israeli political system by special interest groups. While the settlers and big business each have their own influential lobby, the gay community is nowhere to be seen. Whatever happened to “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”?

It is possible that the gay community has refrained from participating in Israeli politics given its full acceptance into the State of Tel Aviv. Described by tourist guides as one of the most “gay friendly” cities in the world, Tel Aviv has turned into a safe haven for LGBTs who flock to it from all over the country. The city not only accepts LGBTs as equal citizens but it also celebrates gay culture enabling the creation of an Israeli gay identity. In this sense, Israel’s LGBTs have accepted a two state solution, one that embraces them and the other which is turning against them.

However, given the rise of hostility towards LGBTs in these elections, it is imperative that the gay community act as one in order to safeguard its way of life, its rights and its status as equal members of society. This community can no longer ignore the rise of homophobia in Israel or continue to exist as a state within a state. The “we’re here, we’re queer, don’t mind us” mentality has to change.

Lastly, it is important to note that the attacks on LGBTs by right wing politicians might signify a shift in the Israeli right wing, whose ideology is no longer restricted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We may be witnessing the birth of a new more radical and daunting right wing which is similar to the one found across Europe and which openly promotes both homophobia and xenophobia. And if this is the case, then we should all rally against it.

About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.