Analysis

LGBT Struggle May Prove Infectious in Fight to Save Israel's Liberal Society

Sunday’s strike protesting an anti-gay surrogacy law resembles the battle against the separation of men and women in many areas of life, as demanded by the ultra-Orthodox

LGBT protesters during Israel's one-day strike against the amended surrogacy law, July 22, 2018
Ilan Assayag

No video of the kind the prime minister sends to the Foreign Ministry or his supporters in Israel for PR abroad could expunge the shame of last week’s decision by the governing coalition to leave gay men out of the amendment to the surrogacy law.

Sunday’s protests throughout the country – whether in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv or small cities like Carmiel and Afula – along with the support of the Histadrut labor federation and numerous companies show that Israelis understand this. And the protest leads back to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The demonstrators are decrying the institutionalized discrimination and bureaucratic hell that the state puts LGBT people through in every aspect of life, from marriage to parenthood to outdated procedures for recognizing sex-reassignment surgery. And all this comes against the backdrop of repeated assaults by rabbis on the LGBT community as people deal with gender and sexual identity. Moreover, this struggle has gone beyond the boundaries of the surrogacy law and seems to have become another battle in a multifront culture war.

>> Regardless of religion, race or gender | Editorial

A partial list includes increased religiosity in textbooks, activities at secular schools by Orthodox organizations, separate seating for boys and girls at Education Ministry events, more activities by Orthodox groups in the army, commanders’ strict interpretation of a dress-code for women soldiers (only) and sometimes the removal of women from bases, the expansion of separate academic tracks for the ultra-Orthodox, and the acceding to the demand to separate the sexes in civil-service courses.

In the background hovers the law letting the interior minister override municipal bylaws and shut grocery stores on Saturdays, and leniencies in the law on drafting ultra-Orthodox men. It’s hard to keep the alliance between the ultra-Orthodox and the Zionist ultra-Orthodox satisfied, and Netanyahu doesn’t even try. His personal opinions, whispered to MKs or close associates, are of no interest. His actions are what count.

Some people say this is a random collection of events that don’t come together to create a new continent, as it were. It may also be argued that the world is flat. The fight for full equal rights for the LGBT community, without stammering or squirming, resembles the fight against the normalization of separating men and women in many areas of life. Both  are struggles over the fast-fading possibilities for a liberal society.

The fact that many companies are supporting the protest is admirable. The change may have seeped in only recently, with the announcement by software-firm Nice that it will stop using El Al Airlines after another incident in which women passengers were moved from their seats following a demand by ultra-Orthodox passengers. The threat did the trick. El Al quickly pledged to “clarify procedures” that prohibit crews from helping accede to such demands. On Thursday, El Al announced its support for the LGBT struggle.

The broad support for this fight is encouraging and heartwarming. Hopefully it will be a gateway to civil support for battles in other areas. Recognition of secular-liberal power can be infectious.