CLEVELAND (JTA) — Donald Trump thanked Republicans for cheering his pledge to keep the LGBTQ community safe.
Benjamin Netanyahu said the LGBTQ community is inseparably part of the Israeli family.
That the statements came the same day and were both delivered by polarizing politicians generally known for appealing to traditionalists is a coincidence to be sure – but a coincidence that points to key differences in how gays are integrated in each country, particularly among conservatives.
They were also signals of how gay rights have, in both cases – among at least some Israeli and American conservatives – been embraced because of the contrast they present between Western and Muslim societies.
Netanyahu on Thursday marked the anniversary of the death of Shira Banki, the 16-year old murdered last year by a haredi Orthodox Jew at Jerusalem’s pride parade. He spoke as Jerusalem was set to launch the first pride parade since the killing.
“All men and all woman are entitled to live their lives as they choose, in dignity and security,” Netanyahu said. “This is not just a parade of the LGBTQ, it’s not just for one group, it’s not just for or against, it’s ‘us,’ it’s ‘together.’”
Delivering the same message on Thursday in English, however, Netanyahu indulged in some compare and contrast, the Times of Israel reported: “Surrounding us are regimes who literally murder you for being gay,” he said.
Whereas Netanyahu’s Hebrew message was strictly dedicated to the proposition that gays had equal footing, period, Trump framed his comments during his acceptance speech Thursday here at he Republican convention as a national security imperative.
“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” he said. “This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good. And we’re going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”
There were huge cheers, and Trump added, “I must say as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.” There were cheers once again.
Israel stripped away restrictions on gay participation in public life years before the United States did and was a pioneer in gay rights in the military. The attitude has pervaded Israeli society, and notably, when Netanyahu’s Likud Party last year swore in an openly gay member of Knesset, Amir Ohana, there was a debate in the Knesset over which political party was first to elect a gay MK.
Advances in the United States on gay rights, by contrast, have been more a function of the liberal and progressive streams in American society. Yes, Trump drew cheers for his comments. So did tech billionaire Peter Thiel when earlier in the night he declared from the podium that he was proud to be gay. But the platform approved last week by the Republican Party unequivocally rejects gay marriage, favors adoption by heterosexual married couples, and calls for protections for businesses and other entities “which decline to sell items or services to individuals for activities that go against their religious views about such activities.” The platform also seconds the thinking behind the push in several Republican-controlled states to pass “bathroom laws” requiring transgender people to use only bathrooms and showers that correspond with the gender into which they were born.
As Trump, who is known to be gay-friendly, intuited, the path to greater Republican acceptance may be through emphasizing a contrast with a perceived enemy, Islamists. The political utility of contrasting liberal democracies with Islamic states is one Netanyahu understands well; but his recent message to his fellow Israelis was about something else: acceptance and family.