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Friday, February 26, 2016

LGBTQ in Israel

Yesterday was a weird mix of gender identity politics and Zionism.  The universal and the particular.

I joined a group for an all day study with leaders and members of the LGBTQ community in Israel, hearing of its successes and challenges.  We began in Jerusalem with a group involved at the Jerusalem Open House, a center, a refuge, for the LGBTQ and the organizers of the Jerusalem Pride March.

Israel is a complex environment.  Progress has been made surrounding issues of LGBTQ rights, as Israel is part of the Western world where the understanding that people regardless of gender or sexual identity are people, just people endowed by their creator . . .  But Israel can also be a hostile place for the LGBTQ community.  Last year at the Jerusalem Pride March six participants were stabbed, one fatally.  And despite government's claims to being the one gay friendly place in the Middle East, it is far from a safe place.

And that brings me to the issue of pink-washing, the exaggerated use of benefits gained by the LGBTQ community in Israel to mask the real dangers the community still faces in Israeli society and law and to present Israel as a gay friendly place.

Indeed the rest of the day was shared with some very seriously brave and out people, including three transitioning individuals and four lesbian rabbis.  As the pink-washing claims, an open meeting with these two panels, held first in a Tel Aviv LGBTQ center and then outside! in the adjoining park, would be more than impossible in nations that surround Israel.

Yet, the stories we heard were not ones of safety and security.  Rather they were of small progress and larger apprehension.

And something else.  It seems to me, a straight ally of a limitedly raised consciousness, that the LGBTQI struggle for liberation in the United States is a transnational, universal liberation movement at its core.  People everywhere just got to be free.  But in Israel there is a national dynamic, a Zionist dynamic overlay.  Creating equality will build the nation.  State building is the essence of Israeli self understanding.  The people we met want a better Israel not only for themselves and not only for a better world but also because they want a better Jewish State.  The Zionist dream still lives.

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