Far-right Likud MK Moshe Feiglin tried to make amends with Israel's gay community on Thursday, meeting with homosexuals from across the political spectrum at the Tel Aviv branch of the Israeli LGBT Association, Bar-Noar.
A chasm still separates Feiglin's positions and the leading concepts of the gay pride community. On Thursday evening, as well, Feigilin stuck by the principle according to which the traditional family unit should stand above all. Still, even he admitted that he had softened his position somewhat since he wrote the 2009 article.
In 2009, Feiglin wrote that homosexuality had long stopped being considered sexual deviancy. "It is the domain of individuals who no one wished to interfere in their private lives. They long ago came out of the closet and constitute today the vanguard of the 'post' culture. It is the ruination of the family unit, which is the foundation stone of every national society. Throughout history, from Rome until contemporary Europe, giving legitimacy to the phenomenon of homosexuality and its expansion has heralded the decline of nations and cultures," he wrote.
"In a way I've changed," said Feiglin, whose 2009 article - titled "I'm a proud homophobe" - was published in Makor Rishon. "Actually, a friend of mine who is more or less the same age as me - his son came out of the closet and asked to meet with me. The kid is very intelligent, much more than average. I sat with him for a few hours and understood things I hadn't realized before. Today I am in a slightly different place. I understand the distress and identify with it," he said.
The political committee of the national Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender Task Force organized the meeting, to enable LGBT leaders to tell Feiglin their stances on key issues pertaining to their community, such as discrimination. It seems that many of those present in the room had read the essay. Tension was in the atmosphere from the first moment, though the conversation remained calm.
Organizers thanked Feiglin for coming. He made it clear he hadn't come to ingratiate himself. "I am not here to convince anybody. I gather that if someone here changes his opinions it will be marginal, but that is less important," he said. "There is the cliche of politicians - the importance of the meeting lies in its existence. Here, that is very real."
Feiglin stressed, "I believe homosexual intercourse is wrong, but we shouldn't blur identities and beliefs. I will fight in every place where freedom is denied, for you all, too."
The MK who was sworn in Tuesday did more listening than talking. Community activists told him about the difficulties those who come out of the closet suffer, about the violence, the discrimination and the struggle to raise a family. At this point, Feiglin drew a red line.
"I am in favor of you having all your human rights, but I am not prepared by the way to invalidate the special value of the classic family, he said and made it clear that he still opposed gay marriage and same-sex parenting.
"Every child in the world has a right to a mother and father. It has nothing to do with religion but with my basic perception of the good of the child," he said.
At this point the discussion heated up. "You are part of the problem," Avi Sofer, a long-time activist in the LGBT community, hurled at Feiglin. "When somebody says 'I am a proud homophobe' it sets the tone. We suffer from very harsh violence. You need to be selective with your words."
Feiglin backed away from the headline and explained that the editor gave it. He said this, even though the expression "proud homophobe" also appeared in the body of the controversial article.
"I'm not scared of you. The fear is that you all will push me into the closet and will create a deterioration in normative values," he said. "If you all would focus on human rights and not on the attempt to obtain moral equivalency, I think the whole story would look different."
Feiglin expressed support for education toward tolerance of homosexuals and lesbians in schools and providing training for educators and community leaders, including the religious and Haredi public. He also agreed, cautiously, to support an amendment to the law that would forbid discrimination in schools based on sexual preference and even to consider a law to compensate the shooting victims from a youth bar.
Later, Feiglin went even a step further. "If we would define it as a pact of intimacy and not as same-sex marriage, would you support it?" asked one of those present.
"Very likely," replied Feiglin. The audience applauded him at the end of the event.
Afterward, he was asked on the side if he still stood behind that same headline. "I am not a homophobe," he firmly replied.