American Jews are understandably proud of Israel’s LGBTQ rights. As a longtime supporter of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Jerusalem’s LGBTQ community center, I have met with many gay Israelis who served honorably in the IDF long before the U.S. ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
Unfortunately because of political conflicts in the governing coalition, the momentum for full LGBTQ civil rights in Israel is stalled. While Israel has addressed many LGBTQ issues, the Jerusalem Open House reports that there are still over 700 clauses within Israeli law that enshrine discrimination against LGBTQ people. We need American Jews to speak out for full civil rights in Israel.
As I write this message, important LGBTQ legislation seems to be dying in Knesset committees, and there have been some serious verbal attacks on our community. On Dec. 8, Knesset member Uri Ariel from a party in the ruling coalition said, “The government does not need to recognize the rights of same-sex couples in an official way.” He has also said, “Homosexuals are not normative,” “we can’t allow them to serve in the army,” and “the Bible forbids homosexual relations and sets heavy punishments. I believe in punishments.”
Also on Dec. 8, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Cabinet blocked bills that would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and one enshrining mortgage equality in law. According to Knesset member Nitan Horowitz, Israel’s first openly gay lawmaker, Netanyahu frequently sites LGBTQ rights in Israel as part of his attacks on Iran. However, he often says “gay” in English but has never used the work “homosexual” in his Hebrew speeches.
It is time to send a clear message to the Israeli government that it is time to grant full civil rights to Israel’s LGBTQ citizens. Israeli Cabinet members are preparing bills allowing gay couples to have children using surrogates and to ensure full benefits for gay married couples but Naftali Bennett, a government minister and head of a nationalist religious party, opposes these bills and has veto power under the coalition agreement.
In addition to organizing the LGBTQ community in Jerusalem, the Open House has launched letter-writing campaigns to Knesset members Mitzna and Bennett demanding quick action on LGBTQ rights and asking Bennett to repudiate the remarks by Ariel, who is from his political party. Please read and sign both letters through the Jerusalem Open House Facebook page and then share them on social media and via email.
With support from the American Jewish Community — gay and straight — Israel will return to the forefront in LGBTQ rights.
Seth Morrison is a consultant in marketing and strategic planning for nonprofit and for-profit organizations. He is an active volunteer for Jewish and LGBTQ organizations, including the Jerusalem Open House For Pride and Tolerance (JOH).