On LGBT Rights Day, Knesset Learns That Only Tel Aviv Seriously Funds Gay Youth NGO

Israeli Gay Youth head tells lawmakers that in nearly three out of four cities where it operates, group gets nothing at all.

Leaders of the group Israel Gay Youth: Rachel Ben Zur, Ziad Abul Hawa and Ido Cohen, September 2016.
Eyal Toueg

Only 10 cities fund activities by Israel’s gay youth association, even though the organization is active in 34 cities, according to data presented on Tuesday to a Knesset committee, which marked LGBT Rights Day.

Tel Aviv, the largest municipal contributor, gave 250,000 shekels ($67,000) to Israeli Gay Youth. But the second-place contributor, Herzliya, gave it only 15,000 shekels, while the other eight towns contributed only a few thousand shekels each.

Several towns rejected IGY’s funding requests altogether. In other towns, IGY didn’t even bother applying, since it knew it didn’t meet the funding criteria.

“In many cases, the criteria are formulated in such a way as to fit only very specific things,” IGY’s outgoing director, Mandy Michaeli, told the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Transparency and Accessibility of Government Information.

Even in towns that do fund IGY, she added, “We need around 15,000 shekels, which is nothing for a municipal budget, but they approve only 1,000 to 2,000. Often, the time it takes to submit the request isn’t worth the money we get in the end. But we do it anyway, because the recognition is important to us.”

Last year, IGY’s budget totaled about 3 million shekels, of which roughly half came from the national government, 15 percent from local governments and the rest from donations and other sources. Each gay youth group IGY runs costs it about 30,000 shekels a year.

Michaeli said she would like local governments to cover 50 percent of the organization’s costs, “since I know I can get the remaining 50 percent from government ministries and private donations.” Most towns do at least provide it with a building, but in some places IGY has to cover rent and maintenance costs itself.

After 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade in 2015, Education Minister Naftali Bennett promised to double his ministry’s funding for IGY, to about 1.5 million shekels a year. But two months ago, it turned out he is actually cutting the group’s funding.

When confronted by the organization, Bennett promised to make up the shortfall, and since then, Michaeli said, his ministry has given it additional money. But the total still comes to 200,000 shekels less than he promised.

MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union), who chairs the transparency committee, told Haaretz, “In recent years, the government has enjoyed using the LGBT community as a poster boy for marketing Israeli liberalism overseas, but at the same time it restricts the basic rights of community members here in Israel and doesn’t fund important matters relating to education, personal security and welfare. So it’s no wonder that at the local government level, many residents who belong to the LGBT community also don’t get the rights to which they are entitled, or that certain towns have capitulated to dark and dangerous political forces that are doing everything they can to send us years backward and prevent full equality.

“This trend must change,” she continued. “We must set new norms for funding and for granting equal rights to every citizen, especially by the town or city where he or she lives, as they are responsible for the most basic services he receives.”

Tzipi Nachshon, who heads the Social Affairs Ministry department that deals with teens and young adults, told the committee that “the local authorities don’t understand the sensitivities” and must change their attitude toward the LGBT community. “The [local] authority is responsible for its sons and daughters, and it must focus a magnifying glass on members of the LGBT community,” she added.