Lapid Presses Gay Rights Bills - to 'Brother' Bennett's Dismay

The move is seen as wedge issue to shake up coalition.

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Yesh Atid is stepping up its efforts to advance the rights of the gay community through legislation – and thereby causing consternation among its erstwhile closest ally, Habayit Hayehudi.

Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid) on Wednesday announced plans to submit legislation allowing gay couples to have children via Israeli surrogates. On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will hear an appeal against its rejection of a Yesh Atid bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If, as expected, the appeal is upheld, the bill will come up for its preliminary Knesset reading next Wednesday. A Yesh Atid bill to grant child tax credits to homosexual parents is also expected to have its preliminary reading next Wednesday, after it was postponed last week due to a dispute with Habayit Hayehudi.

This wave of legislation has infuriated Habayit Hayehudi.

“It’s upsetting that they’re trying to make us seem backward,” one Habayit Hayehudi member said Wednesday. “Granted, we’re a conservative religious party, but we made it clear that we’re willing to advance the community’s rights. In recent weeks, however, Yesh Atid hasn’t been working to advance the community’s rights, but to create tensions with Habayit Hayehudi.”

That complaint was echoed by party chairman Naftali Bennett in an interview with Channel 2 television. “We support tax credits for same-sex couples,” he said. “But Yesh Atid and [Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni want to change the entire status of marriage in Israel on the back of these credits. That’s a big discussion. We ought to have it, not slip it through on the side.”

Habayit Hayehudi has been trying to lower its profile on the issue to deflect criticism from the gay community, and therefore declined to comment on German’s surrogacy initiative. “We haven’t yet seen the bill; we haven’t read it; and no one tried to explain to us what’s in it,” one party MK said. “The only thing it’s possible to say now is that we’ll study the material and then respond.”

The party has also begun taking steps to try to assuage the gay community’s concerns. For instance, Bennett called television presenter Assi Azar, a leading community spokesman, and accepted his invitation – made via a public Facebook post – that Bennett and his wife have dinner with Azar and his partner to see for themselves “that we’re just like you.” The two couples agreed to meet in a kosher Tel Aviv restaurant.

Bennett also met Wednesday with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid in an effort to lower the tension.

A senior Likud official said Habayit Hayehudi’s complaints were justified. “Lapid is deliberately creating serious disputes and rifts within the coalition,” he said. “He’s advancing an organized campaign to promote legislation on religion and state, and especially rights for same-sex couples, despite knowing this upsets Habayit Hayehudi. From a coalition standpoint, Bennett and his faction colleagues are right in claiming they [Yesh Atid] don’t consider them before raising these proposals. But on the other hand, they [Habayit Hayehudi] erred by sending out a flood of press statements last week saying they’d defeated Yesh Atid and caused them to cave.”

Yair Lapid.Credit: Reuters

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