Twenty-one years ago, Meir Ariel — Israel’s Bob Dylan — called the LGBTQ community “an incubator for disease.” Today, it would be inconceivable for someone in his position to say something like that. No secular Israeli artist would allow such words to escape his lips.
This change reflects the fact that over past twenty years, the LGBTQ community has garnered unprecedented acceptance in Israeli society. Many in the community have taken their places as cultural leaders, even as unofficial ambassadors for Israel around the world.
This is not to say that members of the LGBTQ community in Israel enjoy perfect equality. Far from it. ‘Homo’ is still the most popular slur in Israeli schools. In conservative communities, it remains exceptionally difficult to come out. And there are overtly homophobic candidates and parties running for Knesset.
A year ago, in July 2018, the Knesset enacted a version of the Surrogacy Law that denied same-sex male couples access to surrogacy. In response, the LGBTQ community went on strike.
We demonstrated and blocked roads, and in an unprecedented show of power, we demanded a reversal of this discriminatory law. While the Surrogacy Law excluding gay men remains on the books, in that moment, we demanded acceptance in Israeli society — and we got it.
But in many ways, this is anomalous. Other minority communities have not had the same experience. If LGBTQ Israelis have enjoyed a meteoric rise in acceptance, the last several years have seen the opposite trend for other minorities: unprecedented incitement against Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel, foreign workers, asylum seekers, and even delegitimization of those who identify simply as “left-wing.”
Israel enshrined this discrimination into law when it passed the Nation-State Law last year, which creating an official ethnic hierarchy in Israel—with Jews at the top and non-Jews as second-class citizens. Not to mention the millions of non-citizens who still lack fundamental rights in the West Bank and Gaza.
We know that LGBTQ rights are rooted in the universal protections of equality, of human rights, and the rights of minorities. This is the basis of every advance that our community has made. And when those values are threatened and upended by a society dominated by violence, intolerance, and racism, we are at risk too.
If you think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Amir Ohana as Israel’s first openly gay minister means that LGBTQ Israelis are no longer at risk, just consider the “natural coalition partners” of the Netanyahu government. They are parties that build their power by fomenting hatred against foreigners, fueling chauvinism, and propping up authoritarian populists in Hungary, Poland, Brazil and of course in the United States.
The strength of our LGBTQ community hasn’t rid the government of homophobia nor has it secured marriage equality.
It’s time we recognize that a narrow struggle to secure these rights won’t succeed.
While some LGBTQ Israelis have reached the heights of Israel’s cultural elite, we can’t forget those of us who are far from feeling accepted and safe in our society. When a young gay Arab Israeli man is stabbed by his brother on the basis of his identity, when transgender people suffer constant violence, discrimination and exclusion, there can be no doubt that there is a long way ahead of us before reaching full equality for all the members of the LGBTQ community.
The LGBTQ community has attained a measure of power. It’s time we use it to change society. Not only to affect our own status, but to change the way Israeli society relates to “the other” living in its midst.
So it’s time that we draw the line between the general strike over the Surrogacy Law and call also for a general strike over the Nation-State Law. We must cry foul with equal outrage when Minister of Education Rafi Peretz announces his support for apartheid—and not only in regards his hateful homophobia.
Building this sense of shared struggle and a common destiny is the first step towards structural change in Israeli society – for the benefit of all of us.