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As LGBTQ+ Pride Month Comes to a Close, Israel Remains a Shining Example

As a gay Jew watching Tel Aviv Pride this month, the fact that the largest Pride celebration in the Middle East (and one of the largest in the Asia) takes place in Israel makes me incredibly proud. Although people associate the Middle East with oppressive homophobia, Israel is the exception. It prioritizes a culture of free expression and lifestyle choices, not only permitting but also honoring its citizens’ decisions to live their lives in the way that brings them fulfillment and happiness.

Tel Aviv Pride is one of the city’s biggest events of the year, attended by many LGBTQ+ people from abroad as well as many Israelis, whether they are LGBTQ or not. My own heterosexual siblings regularly attended Pride before the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the years 2018 and 2019 brought out over 250,000 participants, and even in 2021 over 100,000 celebrants joined in the fun. This makes it the biggest Pride event not only in the entire Middle East, but also in the whole continent of Asia. This is a remarkable testament to the kind of modern society Jews have built in our ancient indigenous land, Israel.

At Pride 2017, Mayor Ron Huldai said: “Tel Aviv Pride parade is not just a celebration, but also an important declaration of support. Tel Aviv, which has already been acknowledged as the world’s most gay-friendly city will continue to be a lighthouse city—spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world.” Approximately 25% of Tel Aviv residents identify as LGBTQ+, and the city has been identified as “one of the world’s top destinations for gay men” in particular. There are also important pride parades in other Israeli cities, such as Jerusalem Pride with over 22,000 participants, including religious heterosexual allies.

Furthermore, Israel’s recognition of the value of its LGBTQ+ citizens goes much deeper than just Pride parade. Israel became one of the first countries to recognize homosexual marriages in 2006. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, banned discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools in 2014. In 2015, Israel’s National Labor Court determined that employees may not be discriminated against based on their gender identity.

Strong representation of the community can be found at all levels of society. Since Israel’s first openly LGBTQ+ lawmaker Uzi Even joined the Knesset in 2002, openly gay membership in Israel’s legislature has now risen to six out of 120 members (five percent), behind only the United Kingdom and Lichtenstein in world legislatures. These six members represent five political parties across Israel’s spectrum, including one representing the conservative Likud. Blue and White Member of Knesset (MK) Idan Roll and his partner recently welcomed a newborn who was carried to term by a surrogate mother. Dori Spivak became Israel’s first openly gay judge in 2011, and Amir Ohana became Israel’s first openly gay government minister in 2019. Israel still has some room for improvement when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights—no country is perfect. But, truthfully, Israel is the place I feel most free in the world, not only as a Jew, but also as a gay man. It is a place where my identities can coexist in one beautiful and thriving land.

But, truthfully, Israel is the place I feel most free in the world, not only as a Jew, but also as a gay man.

Sadly, the contrast with other countries in the region could not be more extreme. Gay men in the Palestinian territories have faced torture and even lethal violence at the hands of PA security forces, members of their own families, and armed militant groups, and the PA has banned activities by gay rights groups. Numerous LGBTQ+ Palestinians have sought asylum in Israel. This is why Israel has decided to grant work permits to Palestinians who have suffered violence or intimidation in the PA territories. The Israeli Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Workers has called on the Welfare and Finance Ministries to create a vocational training program for these new residents.

This oppression continues while many LGBTQ+ organizations around the world focus their attention on Israel. Not only is this deeply anti-Jewish and harmful to LGBTQ+ people in Israel, but also it abandons and erases vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in other parts of the Middle East. And as a gay Jew, I must stand with my LGBTQ+ family who are being oppressed every day by their own leaders and societies.

Ultimately, Israel’s Pride is both a powerful symbol of hope for the world’s LGBTQ+ community and an indicator of Israel’s powerful culture of democracy and acceptance. Despite Zionism itself being the most successful decolonization project in history, Israel’s record on LGBTQ+ people, though not perfect, demonstrates why the rejection of Israel by the progressive and liberal world is both illogical and harmful. As a gay Jew, I can walk down the street holding hands with my partner in Tel-Aviv; sadly, the same cannot be said for LGBTQ+ people in Tehran and other countries.

Ben M. Freeman is a gay Jewish internationally renowned author, educator focusing on Jewish identity, combatting Jew-hatred and raising awareness of the Holocaust. He is the founder of the modern Jewish Pride movement and the author of “Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People.”

Source: Jewish Journal

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