Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted on Wednesday against a clause in the surrogacy bill that would allow surrogate births for same-sex couples despite voicing public support for it earlier this week.
On Sunday Netanyahu said he supports the bill in a closed meeting with Likud lawmakers. “I support surrogacy for single fathers,” Netanyahu said, adding that he favored amending the law during the current Knesset session if possible, but if not, he said it should be done later on, via reservations to an amendment bill that MK Amir Ohana (Likud) raised last week, to permit surrogacy procedures for same-sex couples.
Netanyahu has expressed support for LGBT family rights several times in recent years but has not followed up most of these declarations with any action.
Netanyahu heads a conservative coalition which rejects any recognition of LGBT family units. Habayit Hayehudi, the ultra-Orthodox parties and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party all reject support for any amendment on the issue.
Members of the opposition booed Netanyahu after the vote, and MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) was removed from the Knesset chamber. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) was at the Knesset at the time of the vote but she did not enter the chamber.
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The LGBT Task Force called on its members to strike on Sunday in response to the vote. “We call on members of the community to be absent from work, to close their businesses and take part in public protests.” The group said activists had approached major employers and informed them of the planned strike, as well as union officials and employers’ organizations.
The Task Force noted that the strike on Sunday coincided with Tisha B’Av, a fast day marking the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, traditionally said to have occurred due to “baseless hatred.”
“The strike is a protest against the baseless hatred of the ultra-Orthodox and conservative politicians against the LGBT community in Israel,” the group said.
The CEO and founder of the New Family organization, Irit Rosenblum, said that the bill is "the first law in decades that aims directly to harm the gay community. Israel is on fire, in and out. This is very bad news for the gay parents' community and for Israel as a liberal society."
A statement from the Likud party on Wednesday said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu voted today for the surrogacy law for single mothers, because it is a bill that was supported by the coalition and takes an important step forward in support of single mothers.” The statement went on to say that later on he would support the bill put forward by MK Ohana extending the law to single fathers.
The law is intended to allow women without a partner and who are unable to become pregnant for medical reasons to give birth by means of a surrogate. The law permits surrogacy for parents who have at most two joint biological children and for a mother with no more than two of her own biological off-spring.
Knesset Social Welfare and Health Committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) who presented the law in the name of the committee, opened his remarks with an apology to the LGBT community. Addressing MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who is gay, Alalouf said: “I am in pain because unfortunately I can’t provide solutions for you and Amir [Ohana], who is also gay, and to people who came to the committee and were angry about the state’s attitude to the LGBT community. Today, to gain progress in the community, things have to be done in the dark of night, not in an open and dignified way.”
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Alalouf told the Knesset of his personal struggle to adopt his son. “Israeli bureaucracy limited us. I couldn’t adopt more than one child,” he said.
Alalouf said he knew he would be criticized over the Knesset vote and that he “was not angry about it,” adding: “According to my conscience I did everything I could to give the [LGBT community] and my family what they lack, and it’s terribly frustrating to wage a battle when you don’t have all the tools. But this battle improves the status of the gay community. Remember where the LGBT community was 20 or 30 years ago.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) reminded the Knesset before the vote that the day before, “Netanyahu stood here and talked about the right to equality, and now we’re getting reports that the prime minister is on his way here to vote against [the bill].”
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) also apologized to the gay community “in the name of the Knesset, for using you cynically to show Israel is gay-friendly, but prohibiting you from marrying and having children.”
“It’s not just the message of being parents or not, it’s the message that you are second-class citizens,” MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said.
Ohana told the committee on Sunday about his and his partner’s efforts to start a family. “We had to go thousands of miles away to another country. The twins were born early and we were not at their side. I moved heaven and earth to find a Jewish person, who did not know me, to live nearby to be at their side. I’m not challenging the rabbinate and religion. I ask only for a little compassion.”
Shmuli told the committee of his own desire to become a father. “I want to be a father and I can’t. To do it, I have to turn to a country overseas, pay $140,000 and hope for the best. My life is full to overflowing, but there’s always something missing. We’re good enough to serve the state, but not good enough to be parents. This is an indescribable insult,” Shmuli said.