Israel's LGBT Community Accuses Minister Steinitz of Exploiting Gay Rights for Self-promotion

Energy Minister denies signing commitment to act on behalf of the LGBT community, but photograph shows otherwise.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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The statement on gay rights being perused by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Tel Aviv, August 1, 2015.
The statement on gay rights being perused by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Tel Aviv, August 1, 2015. Credit: Aguda
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

LGBT activists Sunday questioned the government’s commitment to gay rights, in part because ministers and legislators declined to sign a statement that gay activists provided the night before.

Three members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu’s governing coalition spoke at the LGBT protest Saturday evening in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park: Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) and MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu).

The group Aguda, which also calls itself the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, organized the rally. It demanded that all speakers sign a commitment to act on behalf of the gay community before being allowed to speak. Activists were particularly incensed only two days after an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed six people at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade.

On Sunday, Steinitz said he did not sign the document. “Such conditions are unacceptable to me,” he told Army Radio.

“I am a minister in the Israeli government and I don’t sign such documents — though, by the way, the document seems completely [acceptable] to me. That’s why instead of signing I read a few lines from the document, but as a minister I do not sign petitions.”

Aguda says Steinitz took the document with him after his speech, and it released a statement accusing the minister of cynically exploiting the gay community.

“Minister Steinitz did not agree at first to sign the commitment form but was convinced by Aguda’s chairpersons to do so; the minister was photographed signing the form and asked to read from the document on stage, as he did. Then he disappeared with the document,” Aguda said.

“We woke up this morning to Minister Steinitz denying that his signature is on the document, and it proved he used the LGBT community in a cynical way to promote himself and without viewing himself as committed to act on its behalf significantly.”

On Saturday night, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on the prime minister and Knesset to “immediately begin a legislative process that will make the members of the Israeli LGBT community equal citizens.”

Aguda chief Oded Fried said his group would demand action, “and this is the essence of the commitment the Knesset members signed.”

“Whoever did not sign did not speak,” Fried said. “We expect that anyone who stood on the stage yesterday and expressed their support for the gay community to keep their commitment to act to prevent incitement to violence, to object clearly to harm against any person, and to act to promote full equal rights for the gay community.”

Steinitz was booed and whistled when he began his speech Saturday. He said the government would “protect your right to express yourselves freely and to march freely, including [the right of] those yelling at me here.”

Activists stood in front of the stage when Steinitz spoke and waved their hands in the air — hands painted red. They accused the government of racism and incitement that led to violence against the gay community.

“What’s the difference between Schlissel and the people of ISIS?” asked Steinitz, referring to the assailant caught on film at the parade Thursday. “There is no difference at all. Terror is terror.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who was considering speaking at the rally in Gan Meir, canceled after being asked to sign the petition.

MK Yinon Magal (Habayit Hayehudi) attended the rally but left after refusing to the sign the document. In the past, Habayit Hayehudi politicians have made their share of anti-gay statements, with one saying “every person has the right to be abnormal at home.”

The rally in Gan Meir actually had been meant to mark the six-year anniversary of a fatal shooting at the Barnoar gay youth center in Tel Aviv. After Thursday’s attack, two people remain in serious condition, while the other four were moderately or lightly wounded.

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