Israel’s LGBTQ community took to the streets Sunday evening after the government struck down a clause that would have allowed surrogate births for same-sex couples. Aguda, the nation’s leading LGBTQ organization, called for the very first LGBTQ general strike. Nearly 60,000 LGBTQ Israelis and allies attended the demonstration.
During the same parliamentary session, Israel adopted the “Jewish Nation State Law” as part of its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, forsaking the old contentious formula of a “Jewish and democratic” state for an ethno-nationalist definition of Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish People.” The new law declares that national self-determination is a right “unique to the Jewish people” and “omits any mention of democracy or the principle of equality.” Arabic, formerly an official language, has been downgraded to a “special status.” Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, already face over 65 discriminatory laws from housing to marriage. Unlike other discriminatory laws, however, the nation-state law constitutionally enshrines “key elements of apartheid” that threaten the liberties and freedoms of non-Jews.
While the Nation State law provoked heightened criticism of Israel around the world, the reaction of Israel’s LGBTQ community is a reminder of their moral blind spot. Organizers of Sunday’s strike and demonstration refused to draw any explicit link between the anti-LGBTQ and anti-Palestinian legislation. The omission of any vocal solidarity with Palestinian citizens of Israel could not have been an oversight given the proximity of the votes and the religious-nationalist coalition behind both bills. Indeed, the complicit silence fits a long established a pattern among mainstream LGBTQ organizations in Israel – Aguda is infamous for its pinkwashing efforts: using LGBTQ rights to recast the image of Israel away from its human rights violations.
In fact, some LGBTQ Israelis harbor racism toward Palestinians including an openly gay member of the ruling, right-wing Likud party, and much of the LGBTQ community actively refuses to express solidarity with Palestinians fearing it would set back the gay rights movement inside Israel if they are perceived as “Arab lovers.” An LGBTQ movement that openly condemns the occupation would certainly encounter more pushback than a movement that toes the nationalist line. But, turning a blind eye to Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians is morally bankrupt and self-defeating.
Simply put, the bet on a succession of right-wing governments, drifting rightward with every election, aligned with religious extremism, will never pay off.
In the past five years alone, 16 pro-LGBTQ bills were defeated by “a coalition of right-wing conservatives who have since ascended to the helm of political power.” As recently as 2016, the Knesset voted down “proposals to recognize a bereaved widower in same sex couples … a bill banning conversion therapy … a bill to recognize a same-sex marriage contract and … a bill to train health professionals to deal with gender and sexual inclination issues.” The day before the bills were voted down, the Knesset approved a symbolic gesture recognizing LGBT Rights Day. That same year, the Ministry of Tourism announced a $2.9 million publicity campaign to promote gay tourism in Israel, meanwhile the government funded Israeli LGBT organizations at one tenth of that amount. These two toothless acts demonstrate that when it comes to the gays, the Israeli government is less interested in the well-being of its LGBTQ community and more concerned with how to market them in its Brand Israel propaganda.
Complicity has alienated many LGBTQ Israelis from their peers around the world. The decision of Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ film festival to accept state funding, and thus avoid any films and panels critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, prompted a queer boycott. The excuse “but Palestine isn’t a gay issue” won’t do. Every human rights struggle should be of concern to LGBTQ individuals still fighting for human rights; never-mind the obvious fact that gay Palestinians also suffer under occupation. Moreover, Israel’s security apparatus has long blackmailed gay Palestinians into collaboration with occupation forces. In a country that actively uses gay identity and sexual practice as a weapon to further browbeat oppressed individuals, the silence of most LGBTQ organizations is shameful.
Not all are so servile toward the Israeli government. A courageous minority raised the banner “No pride in occupation” and staged their own Pride parade. They understand that their liberation is interwoven with equal rights for the Palestinians and that full equality can only be secured once all forms of discrimination have been eliminated. An exclusive focus on gay rights as if they are discrete from other rights undercuts that struggle and diminishes any advances by limiting their benefits to Jewish citizens. By enabling discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in their refusal to speak out, LGBTQ Israelis normalize the very state-sanctioned discrimination that they’re protesting.
If the right-wing is voting against them anyway, LGBTQ Israelis have little to lose and much to gain if they join efforts alongside the global BDS movement to support equality for all Israelis and Palestinians.