Israel is a Beacon for Gay Rights in the Middle East
Many in the LGBTQ+ community fall for anti-Israel and often, Antisemitic propaganda, ignorantly bashing the Jewish state. While no democracy is perfect, Israel is the embodiment of what all those who believe in basic human rights want the Middle East to be.
Copyright © Ofer Vaknin
Israeli culture embraces gay rights as an element of basic human rights, something that is certainly not a given in the Middle East, making Israel the outlier. Homosexuals serve openly in Israel’s military and parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are homosexual.
In Israel, it is illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment, adoptions, partner benefits, and the army service. While America hid gay military personnel with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the Israel Defense Forces began protecting by law men and women in 1993.
Countless celebrities and allies adore Israel, often times due to its progressiveness and open community. After a concert, Lady Gaga exclaimed, “Tel Aviv is magnificent. The worldview of Israel is just not reality. It’s a beautiful place, the people are in good spirits... Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves! You are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I [sic] love you, Israel!”
Likewise, when Elton John performed in Israel, he said that no one could have stopped him from coming to Israel, referring to the pressure of anti-Israel activists and supporters of the anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The use of hyperbolic statements do nothing but deter the general population of the world to hold inaccurate beliefs about gay rights in Israel. We must stand up for what we believe it, but we must also recognize the great challenges we face in expressing those beliefs without deteriorating into the dangerous trends of fake news, negative generalizations, and anti-Israel propaganda.
Tel Aviv has been a beacon of acceptance when it comes to support for the LGBTQ community, including the transgender community. Each year the Tel Aviv Municipality building was lit up with the LGBTQ community’s rainbow flag as Gay Pride Month kicked off.
Israel is far from perfect, and, like other countries in the world, same-sex marriage, surrogacy rights for gay men are just two of the many issues that the Jewish State continues to contend with. But it is amazing to see the vibrant democracy that is Israel which allows for pride parades and gay rights rallies to take place where the voice of those passionate for these causes can be heard.
Indeed, Israel has been a trailblazer when it comes to gay rights, but much like the dilemmas facing Jewish communities throughout the world, same-sex relationships have remained a taboo among religious and ultra-Orthodox communities.
Tel Aviv in particular is considered one of the friendliest cities for LGBTQ people (rated #1 in 2012), even though the young country exists in a neighborhood with those who greet LGBTQ individuals not with parades, but with death sentences. Take Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example, which execute on homosexuality charges for acts against Sharia law and “bad deeds.” In Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries, their fates are not much better.
The same cannot always be said of other countries in the Middle East. And while Israel should not be compared to Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia in their harsh and violent treatment of gays, Israel most definitely deserves to be commended for its continuous effort to engage with and find solutions for even the most challenging and divisive of issues.
Israel, like most countries in the world, still have a long way to go in promoting equality for many of its citizens. Gay rights is one arena that has taken center stage in the media, often focused on those issues that have not yet been addressed. But one thing is clear: Israelis will continue to use their voice and stand up for what they believe is right and fair for all Israelis to live in coexistence and peace with human rights for everyone.