Israeli LGBT Activists Mobilize Online After Gay Rights Bill Fails

'My country defines me by my sexual orientation,' laments campaign leader. 'It defines me as unacceptable. As unequal to my brothers or friends.'

Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron
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Oded Yaron
Oded Yaron

LGBT rights activists have taken to Facebook to protest and vent over the failure of a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

When the bill was blocked from reaching the Knesset plenum for a vote, gay rights activist Yonatan Vanunu started a Hebrew-language Facebook page on Tuesday under the banner “LGBTs Demand Equality." By Wednesday evening, it garnered nearly 4,000 likes.

In a post on his Facebook page, Vanunu lashed out against what he sees as a general and pervasive rejection of LGBT people by the government.

“I did full military service, I am an independent business owner who pays taxes, I pursued academic studies and I am also gay," he wrote. "Many people say that sexual orientation does not define the person; that being gay is only in bed; that no one cares what I do behind closed doors. And there's nothing that annoys me more than this attitude. Homosexuality is not just in bed! It’s a relationship, it’s a family, it’s a community.

“Surprisingly enough, my country actually does define me by my sexual orientation. It defines me as unacceptable. As unequal to my brothers or friends. Although I’m single now, someday I also want to get married and start a family in Israel."

Five ministers from the Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi parties killed the bill on Sunday when it came before them in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, but one online petition seemed to place the blame on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, charging him with neglecting the LGBT community.

“In August 2009, after the Bar Noar murders, you made a much appreciated visit to the gay youth center in Tel Aviv to express your support for the gay community,” the petition reads, alluding to a shooting that killed two and wounded 15. “Unfortunately, since that day, your support has not been evident. We have encountered only closed-mindedness from you when it comes to our constitutional rights and the discrimination we experience as productive and tax-paying citizens in the State of Israel.”

The petition has already accumulated 2,000 signatures.

Israel's gay rights activists are taking cues from their counterparts in the United States. In the lead-up to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in March, many Facebook users replaced their profile picture with a simple graphic of an equal sign to show support for gay rights. Now, graphic designer Tal Spiegel has created a Israeli version of the symbol: a white equals sign against a blue background.

Rightists fire back

On the other side of the political spectrum, Habayit Hayehudi leader MK Naftali Bennett criticized the attacks on his faction colleague, MK Ayelet Shaked.

“Have you gone crazy,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “In recent days, Habayit Hayehudi and its chairwoman, Ayelet Shaked, have come under violent, incendiary attacks. 'You ought to die,' 'Burn, you homophobe,' and 'Start worrying about your children' are among the milder threats she has received during this ugly wave. There are things that have been written and publicized that are not worth repeating.”

Bennett added that while his party supports providing government benefits to gay people, it opposes a change in the status of marriage.

“There are more countries in the world that do not recognize same-sex marriage than those that do,” he wrote. “It is not recognized in Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, Denmark, Italy, Greece, and Russia do not recognize same-sex relationships at all.”

Bennett is not entirely accurate, however. Germany might not recognize same-sex marriage, but it registers gay couples, which gives same-sex couples almost all the same rights. Britain has already passed legislation recognizing same-sex marriage, and an effort to overthrow it in the House of Lords in June failed. In Ireland, same-sex couples also get almost equal rights, and the government plans to hold a referendum that would amend the Constitution in 2015 to permit gay marriage.

Image of equal sign, designed by Tal Spiegel, used in Facebook profile photos to promote gay rights.
Israeli and Rainbow flags in Tel Aviv.Credit: Reuters
Image of equal sign, designed by Tal Spiegel, used in Facebook profile photos to promote gay rights.

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