Mayor of Arab Israeli Town Cancels Lecture Given by pro-LGBTQ Lawmaker

Despite claims that cancellation of talk and municipality center came after pressure from religious leaders, mayor says his decision was based on COVID-related health concerns

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Touma-Sliman speaks at a protest against femicides in Taibeh, July 2020.
Touma-Sliman speaks at a protest against femicides in Taibeh, July 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Qalanswa Mayor Abad Al-Bast Salama cancelled an event where the pro-LGBTQ rights Arab lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman was going to speak in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

This comes as the issue of supporting LGBTQ rights continues to divide Arab society.

Despite claims that conservative religious figures in the town persuaded Mayor Salama to cancel the event due to the lawmaker's stance on LGBTQ issues, the mayor said the decision stemmed from health concerns, as well as his desire to avoid "fanning the flames."

"The town is fluctuating between red and orange according to the traffic light program, and every meeting risks inviting a large gathering," Salama said.

"As far as I'm concerned, they can do the meeting on Zoom. We respect all opinions and all of the Arab lawmakers of the Knesset."

Following the move by the mayor to cancel her appearance at the municipality location, the lecture was moved to a private home in the town.

The event was "an attempt to draw attention to unjustified violence against women and LGBTQ people," said social activist Asil Matana, who organized the event.

"Obviously there was pressure on the mayor, and unfortunately he was persuaded. These religious community members speak about freedom of expression and ideals, but on the same token, try to force ideals and stop conversations."

Sheikh Moaid Al-Ukhba, a member of the community's religious Islamic sect, told Haaretz that in his eyes "and of other religious circles in the town, supporting LGBTQ issues perpetrates violence 

"As a conservative in an Islamist society, we can't accept her speaking here. We're not against Touma-Sliman, we're just against the ideas that she represents," he said.

The discussion surrounding LGBTQ rights in Arab society is ongoing, after several recent incidents reignited the conversation. These include the gay conversion therapy bill that split the Joint List vote in July, as well as the public backlash faced by a tahini company that donated a large sum to a hotline supporting Arab members of the LGBTQ community.  

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