To many people around the world, it seems obvious that Israel is accommodating to the needs of the LGBTQ community. And in many ways, this is true, and a real reason for pride. The Israeli government markets Tel Aviv as a destination for LGBTQ tourism. Political parties from the left and the right, including even those that represent the National Religious sector, boast about their support for the LGBTQ community.
Then there is Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade, which will take place tomorrow, and we can expect, as in years past, thousands to take part in this colorful celebration. Additional Pride events are also taking place throughout the country this summer: Kfar Saba held its first Pride march last week; Be’er Sheva will hold its second Pride march at the end of the month; Jerusalem’s Pride has become an important event that draws untraditional allies — including from the religious community — to show up and take a stand for inclusiveness; and there is even an effort underway to organize a Pride march in Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab town considered to be culturally conservative.
All of this is evidence of how far Israeli society has come in terms of recognizing that LGBTQ individuals need to be recognized as equal members of society. When the first rally for gay rights was held in Tel Aviv in 1979 — you can see some amazing historical footage of this event here — Israeli law still prohibited sodomy. And when, in 1989, NIF helped a gay El Al employee successfully file a lawsuit to challenge the company’s discrimination against his partner, Israel had yet to pass a law against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Such a law would be passed in 1992.
But none of this success is the result of largess from Israel’s government. Rather, it is the result of decades of hard work, of struggle, and of dedication on the part of Israel’s LGBTQ community and its allies. And our success thus far does not mean that we can let down our guard. There are still very real ways in which LGBTQ Israelis have yet to realize equality. We must also stay vigilant to protect the progress we’ve made from those who want to shove LGBTQ Israelis out of sight.
A clear example of this is that the pride march that was held in Kfar Saba last week nearly didn’t happen. Police had refused to issue a permit for the event unless the organizers would pick up the tab for security measures, including, absurdly, a six-foot high barrier that would conceal the marchers. It was only after the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other organizations filed a lawsuit that the police backed down and allowed the event to go forward.
You and I know that this is what social change looks like. We must push social norms to embrace equality and diversity in meaningful ways. We must look to political leaders and to the courts to ensure that everybody has access to equal rights. And then, especially on those fronts where we’ve made progress, we must stay present. Constant monitoring and advocacy is necessary to make sure that the rights we’ve fought for continue to be upheld.
This is what NIF does. And when it comes to LGBTQ rights, we know that we can’t stop just because Tel Aviv is an oasis for gay life, but rather we must continue our work so that every LGBTQ person in Israel can feel supported and safe.
The same approach is true in our advocacy for women, for Mizrahis, for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and for everybody in Israel. This is the path to a more inclusive, more equal, and more democratic Israel. We have reason for pride. And we have more work to do.