JERUSALEM (Jun. 26)
For a day, Safra Square, home to Jerusalem’s City Hall, was transformed into an artist’s palette of rainbow-colored flags, balloons, arm bands, umbrellas and sun hats of all kinds.
People of all ages and varying degrees of religious affiliations, many wearing yarmulkes, gathered last Friday to begin Jerusalem’s second gay pride march down Jaffa Street, through the capital’s downtown and into Independence Park, where Interior Minister Avraham Poraz was among the dignitaries scheduled to address the marchers.
Young people were colorfully dressed in outlandish costumes: There were several “angels” with wings, a man in a hot pink tutu, a few women wrapped in the rainbow flag associated with gays and lesbians. Bright-colored pants and shirts in rainbow colors added to the festive and happy mood.
At the same time, Haifa was holding its first gay pride parade. Tel Aviv’s is scheduled for Friday, near the end of international Gay Pride Month.
To mark the month, Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky hung the rainbow flag alongside the Israeli flag in his office.
Lest anyone think that gay and lesbian rights are universally accepted here, however, protesters yelled and held up signs opposing the Jerusalem march, including one that read, “Don’t pollute our Holy Land. Your sick abominations should be treated, not flaunted.”
The mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, rejected calls from his own fervently Orthodox community to ban the march, but he also recently called it “an abomination,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
And several days before the march, many of the rainbow-colored flags that had been hung along the route were ripped down and burned by members of the outlawed, far-right Kach Party.
Advocates for gay and lesbian rights may have made great strides in Israel in the 1990s, but in recent years they’ve taken a back seat since the intifada refocused political attention on security issues.
Uzi Even of the left-wing Meretz Party, who in late 2002 became Israel’s first openly gay legislator, noted that issues such as the rights of gay couples have suffered indirectly from the intifada, since terrorized Israelis are less willing to vote for left-wing parties who happen to be the strongest backers of gay rights in Israel.
At the same time, Even says, Israeli society as a whole gradually is becoming more liberal about gay issues. And, he notes, even though parties like Meretz that championed gay rights have lost support, the fervently Orthodox Shas Party also saw its Knesset representation decimated in the last elections, while Shinui — which takes a liberal stand on gay issues — jumped to 15 seats, becoming Israel’s third-largest party.
“Both Meretz and Shinui are dealing with the issue of same-sex adoption and have legislation in the beginning stages of progression in the Knesset,” Even noted. “We are gradually winning peoples’ hearts. Even members of religious parties, off the record, found it easy to work with me in committee.”
One such legislator is Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism bloc, who said gay couples “should have all the other rights, such as in the workplace and in buying an apartment” — though he doesn’t think they should be allowed to adopt children.
“A child is not a pet. It’s more than chutzpah for a same sex couple to get what they want,” Ravitz said. “What kind of child can grow up in this type of family? I wouldn’t give them a child.”
Asked about artificial insemination or in-vitro pregnancies, procedures that lesbian couples sometimes use in order to have children, Ravitz said they amounted to “manufacturing a child like in a factory. A normal mother is one who provides a father to a child.”
But Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, sees reason for optimism.
“We are in a constant stream of progress,” he told JTA. “We are just now celebrating 15 years of the abolishment of the sodomy laws. We’re far ahead of the U.S. in that we have a national anti-discrimination in employment and public accommodations law” regarding homosexuals.
Gay and lesbian activists are following three cases currently on appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court:
An expanded panel of judges is reconsidering a ruling allowing a child to be registered with two mothers.
ACRI is seeking the repeal of a law that doesn’t allow same sex couples to adopt children.
ACRI also demands that homosexual couples should benefit from a property tax waiver in the same way as married couples or common law couples who share ownership of an apartment.
“Israel, this great but young democracy, is one of the world’s leaders in gay rights,” said Jonathan Danilowitz, a Tel Aviv activist who is known in Israel as the El Al steward who successfully sued the airline for homosexual spousal rights.
“Legislation is in place to protect gay rights in the workplace and most other spheres of day-to-day living. The courts are working overtime trying to resolve important issues like gay adoptions and equivalent tax relief for gay couples,” he said. “Just as citizens’ rights for women, the disabled, religious and racial minorities must be addressed, so must the rights of gay men and women, bisexuals and transgender people.”
Danilowitz was one of the organizers of TEHILA, which offers help to parents distressed by the discovery of their children’s homosexuality. TEHILA — a Hebrew acronym for Support for Parents of the Gay Community — is the Israeli version of P-FLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a support group based in New York.
Monthly support groups are held at Tel Aviv’s gay community center, attended by parents who sometimes bring along adult children.
Jerusalem also has a gay/lesbian center, called the Jerusalem Open House. Among the workshops are some for Arabs afraid to publicly admit their homosexuality, while other services help Orthodox homosexuals who fear being stigmatized in their community.
“We’re not trying to create a gay ghetto, but to transform Jerusalem and create social change,” said Hagai El-Ad, the center’s director. “We want to make the city more open for all people.”
Not everyone shares that aspiration. Columnist Jonathan Rosenblum said that from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew writing from the spiritual center of the Jewish world, a public display such as the gay pride parade “is antithetical to the holiness of Jerusalem. It is antithetical to the Torah.
“The Torah views male homosexuality as forbidden,” Rosenblum told JTA. “That is the beginning and the end of the issue.”
But with every year that the gay pride parades go on in Israel, their acceptance becomes more widespread. In a June 20 column that both supported such gatherings and subtly poked fun at them — it cited a piece in the satirical newspaper The Onion that lampooned the exhibitionism common at gay pride parades in the United States — Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens noted that such parades show the strength of Israeli democracy.
“We are the only democracy in the Middle East,” Stephens wrote, referring not only to Israel’s political structure but also to its social and cultural mores. “We are a typical Western state. Nothing demonstrates it better than today’s march.”