Netanyahu Responds to LGBT Criticisms: Proud to Lead One of World’s Most Open Democracies

'There is a big gap between what Netanyahu writes and the real discrimination the LGBTQ community is experiencing in Israel,' activists say in response

An Israeli waves a flag in front of a banner showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a rally to protest against inequality for the LGBT community in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 22, 2018. Thousands of Israeli LGBT advocates and their supporters went on strike across the country Sunday, protesting the exclusion of gay men from a recently passed surrogacy law. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to respond to criticism over policy regarding Israel's LGBTQ community, but avoided the subject of same-sex surrogacy rights in a letter to a Jewish organization last week.

He was responding to a letter obtained by Haaretz and penned by LGBTQ Jewish groups accusing him of discrimination after he flip-flopped on an amendment that would have given gay men the same surrogacy rights as women.

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Letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to World Congress of GLBT Jews
Shachar Peled

“I am proud to be the prime minister of one of the world’s most open and free democracies,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Barbara “Goldy” Goldberg, vice president of the World Congress of GLBT Jews. “Israel consistently upholds civil equality and civil rights of all its citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation,” he added.

Netanyahu said he had expressed his support for "LGBTQ family rights on numerous occasions,” citing the recent amendment to the surrogacy law as “an important step in supporting single mothers.”

However, this law denies gay men equal surrogacy rights in Israel. Its passing sparked outrage in the LGBT community, leading to a strike and massive protests in Israel.

Netanyahu’s July 31 letter was a response to a letter sent almost two weeks prior from over 20 LGBT Jewish communities worldwide, who expressed their strong support for those fighting for equality in Israel.

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“The right to become a parent is a universal basic human right that should not be deprived to anyone, especially due to their sexual or gender identity,” the groups wrote after the amendment passed. “It is not just a liberal concept, but also a Jewish mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’” they added.

Frank Giaoui, president of the World Congress of GLBT Jews, was quick to point out the hypocrisy in Netanyahu’s policy and actions. “Israel’s government aims at attracting international gay tourism in the country at the same time they discriminate their own LGBTQ citizens from basic parenthood rights,” he said. “What a strange paradox!”

In their call to “amend this discrimination,” the groups hoped Netanyahu would “truly promote equality for the LGBTQ community,” but were disappointed by what they considered an untruthful response.

“Unfortunately, there is a big gap between what Prime Minister Netanyahu writes and the real discrimination the LGBTQ community is experiencing in Israel,” said Assaf Weiss, secretary of the World Congress of GLBT Jews and initiator of the first letter.

“Stating that Israel upholds total equal rights for the LGBT community in Israel is a complete falsehood. Under this current government in Israel, LGBTQ people are suffering from harsh discrimination regarding parental rights, marriage rights and transgender rights.”

Weiss added that “the tens of thousands of people who protest against this discrimination are the best testimony that the Israeli public supports full equality for the LGBTQ community.”

Members of Israel’s LGBT community accused the state of pinkwashing last month after the Foreign Ministry sponsored a booth at the Gay Pride Parade in Berlin promoting tourism to the Jewish state. The LGBT Task Force described the ministry’s decision as an act of cynicism, saying that while the Knesset passes laws that insult LGBT people, it simultaneously presents Israel to the world as liberal and open.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this story.