Analysis

Netanyahu's Slap in the LGBT Community's Face Could Cost Him Dearly

A surrogacy bill that excludes same-sex couples may push Israelis' revulsion with power-hungry ultra-Orthodox politicians to a boiling point

Protesters in Tel Aviv demonstrating against gay discrimination in surrogacy law, July 19, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to go to the Knesset and vote for a twisted, cruel and discriminatory surrogacy bill that excludes gay men who want to adopt children in Israel. That was one day after he’d posted a clip expressing support for surrogate births in the case of single fathers. That sentiment, though, was not expressed in the premier’s vote against a clause in that spirit, which Likud MK Amir Ohana, a member of the gay community, proposed as a rider to the Health Ministry’s bill on the same subject.

Netanyahu had planned to absent himself from the plenum; he wanted the shame to devolve on his coalition partners. But some of them told him that if he didn’t show up, they might get confused and press the “for” button (in favor of Ohana’s amendment), instead of the “against” one, as required by party discipline. Passage of that clause was liable to foment a coalition crisis with the Ashkenazi Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), whose senior representative, Yaakov Litzman, heads the Health Ministry.

As Netanyahu entered the Knesset chamber, it was clear that he felt uneasy, and was perhaps even experiencing pangs of conscience. He approached Zionist Union MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Staf Shaffir and assured them that he was serious and sincere about his promise to submit a new bill that will right the wrong. No one takes that seriously. As long as he’s connected umbilically to the Haredim, whom he regards as his natural partners, no such legislation will be enacted.

We can believe Netanyahu when he says he supports the right of male gays to become fathers without having to go abroad, and thus bankrupt themselves and mortgage the rest of their lives. All he had to do was call the coalition whip, MK David Amsalem (Likud), and instruct him to allow the coalition freedom to vote as they wished on the relevant clause. What would the result have been? If the Haredim were to bolt the coalition, we’d have an election in January or February 2019. And afterward? The Haredim would take their revenge on him? How? By entering into a coalition with MK Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid? With Avi Gabbay?

Netanyahu could have won the applause of the majority of the public. It would have taken one phone call. A display of leadership, courage, integrity, sensitivity, compassion. As the Western world moves ahead with giant steps to full equality between LGBT and straight people, Israel under the leadership of the conservative Netanyahu is bent on maintaining the discrimination and humiliation. The protest being organized for Sunday by the community and the planned strike by its members at their places of work should trouble him and his staff. Support for it is growing all the time, and matter are liable to spin out of control. A large number of workplaces are planning to join the demonstration, employers seeing their participation as a blow against a return to the dark ages.

The general feeling is that this time things have gone too far. You know how protests start, but you never know how they’re going to develop. Everyone remembers where Israel was in the summer of 2011, with the social justice protests. The growing revulsion among the public with the power-hungry Haredim, who are never satisfied with what they have, who force their laws and customs on a whole country, could reach a critical point in the wake of Wednesday’s vote. We’ve already been through the insult of the supermarkets bill, the annoying ban on railroad repairs on Shabbat, the threats with regard to Haredi draft. Maybe something good can come out of all the bad.

The legislation on surrogate births is part of the toxic harvest that the 20th Knesset, in its penultimate session before going off for summer recess, has reaped for us. The nation-state law, in its less pernicious form, was passed. The word “equality” doesn’t appear in it. Arabic was demoted from being a second official language to having a “special status.” Such pathetic hairsplitting only to show the Israeli Arabs that it’s the Jews who rule here.

“Why humiliate? Why insult 20 percent of the country’s citizens?” asked MK Benny Begin (Likud), who abstained in the vote. Why, indeed? Because in the war for the hearts and minds of the right-wing electorate being waged between Netanyahu/Likud and Naftali Bennett/Habayit Hayehudi – everything goes.

At about 3 A.M., between Wednesday and Thursday, following the vote, Netanyahu took the podium and announced that the dream of Theodor Herzl had been realized – and he was the one who was responsible. A “defining law,” is the way he described this divisive creation that nearly half of the Knesset voted against, and that has also elicited opposition among Diaspora Jewish communities.

On top of this there’s the disgraceful law that exempts the prime minister from paying taxes on expenses for his mansion in Caesarea, which sucks up funds from the public coffers the way the pumps sucked water out of the flooded cave in Thailand. That one was the contribution of MK Miki Zohar (Likud), defender of the poor, champion of the lower classes, to the law books.

And of course there is the “Breaking the Silence bill,” promoted at the urging of Bennett’s Education Ministry – legislation that derives entirely from cowardice, lack of self-confidence and a desire to silence anyone who expresses an opinion that differs from that of the government. All in the name of patriotism and love for Israel.

Also passed this week was what was dubbed “Recommendations Bill II,” legislation that encourages corruption by forbidding the police to make public the grounds for closing a case, in the event that insufficient evidence was found. That legislation was sponsored by MK David Amsalem, possessor of a long record of harassing those who enforce the law. Along the way, under the radar, Amsalem’s soulmate MK David Bitan (Likud), sponsored the bill limiting the suspension of an employee of a public institution who is suspected of crimes, aka “the Israel Aerospace Industries bill,” (named for Yair Katz, chairman of the IAI workers committee and the son of MK Haim Katz, who is himself under investigation too).

No, it’s not a nightmare, it’s the Israeli parliament, and it’s the year 2018.