Large Turnout as Israel's Gay Lobby Holds First Knesset Session

Over a quarter of all Members of Knesset attend meeting, which opened with condemnation of local university that banned public gay pride event.

Olivier Fitoussi

The new Knesset’s so-called gay pride lobby held its first meeting on Wednesday morning, with 32 MKs present, including 24 from the opposition and eight from the coalition. Among those attending was the new Minister for Gender Equality Gila Gamliel (Likud), Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and Meretz chief Zehava Galon. No Knesset members from Yisrael Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, United Torah Judaism or Shas were in attendance. Nor were than any Arab MKs, with MK Dov Khenin, the only member of the Joint Arab List present.

The lobby will be headed by MKs Yael German (Yesh Atid), Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Yoav Kish (Likud). German opened the meeting with a harsh condemnation of the administration of Bar-Ilan University, which turned down a student group request to hold an open gay pride event on campus.

The discussion focused on how the Israeli educational system relates to transgender youth, and included personal testimony of many who had experienced major difficulties.

“Transgenders are part of the gay community [that is] more discriminated against, which suffers more, and until recently did not receive significant and appropriate attention even with the community itself,” said Kish, adding that he anticipated considerable support from MKs from many parties, especially Likud, for measures intended to improve the situation. MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) was less hopeful, saying “it will not be easy to pass laws [in favor of the gay community] with this coalition.”

Netanyahu was asked to attend the session, but said he had a security meeting at the time and sent a message instead: “The struggle for recognition of every person as equal before the law is a long struggle and has farther to advance,“ wrote Netanyahu, “but I am proud that Israel is among the most open nations in the world concerning its relation to the community and the discussion here is becoming more accepting and respectful every year.”

Discrimination against transgender Israelis in the labor market was borne out by findings from the Economy Ministry’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Only 68 percent of transgender people are employed, a much lower percentage than others in the LGBT community, said the Commission’s Hana Kupfer, upon presenting a survey conducted a year and a half ago. Moreover, the vast majority of transgender people — 86 percent — earn less than the average wage, she said.

Michaeli cited a recent National Labor Court decision that the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender or sexual preference, also applies to gender identity — even though the law does not explicitly mention this. She noted that the previous Knesset voted down a bill she sponsored to add protection against discrimination because of gender identity to the law. “It is a shame that this was determined by the court and not by the Knesset,” she said.

Rozin announced she would introduce a similar bill. “Sometimes within an oppressed minority there is an oppressed minority, and transgender Israelis continue to suffer from violence and hate; they are an example of such a group.”