Analysis |

The Unavoidable Obstacle to LGBT Equality, Religious Pluralism and a Liberal Israel: It’s the Occupation, Stupid

The political schism in Israel’s non-Orthodox majority prevents it from striking a serious blow for freedom and equality

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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A protest against discriminatory LGBT legislation in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2018.
A protest against discriminatory LGBT legislation in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2018.Credit: \ Moti Milrod
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

It’s the occupation, stupid. Not all of it, but most of it. If not for the occupation, gay men would not have been excluded from Israel’s new surrogacy law, the police would never have arrested a Conservative rabbi for deviating from arcane Halakha law, American Jews could feel at home here, Israelis could decide how and where they get married, the Rabbinate’s monopoly would be broken, women would be equal, yeshiva students would have to reach a reasonable arrangement on their recruitment to the army, the Knesset would stop destroying Israeli democracy and Israel could get back on track to becoming a proudly liberal state.

The rising tides of nationalism and incitement would also recede and the resentment of Israeli Arabs subside.

This is not about the occupation’s degenerative effect on public morality, the rule of law, national unity, political discourse, clean government, moderate views, attitudes to minorities or the brotherhood of man and woman. In the eyes of most opponents of the occupation, the corrosive influences of 51 years of rule over another people are hardly in dispute.

>> Netanyahu's slap in the LGBT community's face could cost him deadly | Analysis ■ Israeli opposition to surrogacy is homophobia disguised as concern for the weak | Analysis

This is about the fact that the occupation is the dominant fault line of Israeli politics and citizens, the impenetrable wall that divides and separates the country’s non-Orthodox majority.

Protesters against the surrogacy law in Haifa, July 22, 2018.
The Tel Aviv rally on behalf of the the LGBT community.
A protest against discriminatory LGBT legislation in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2018.
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Protesters against the surrogacy law in Haifa, July 22, 2018. Credit: Rami Shllush
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The Tel Aviv rally at Rabin Square on behalf of the the LGBT community, July 22, 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod
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A protest against discriminatory LGBT legislation in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2018.Credit: \ Moti Milrod
Protesters against the surrogacy law

Because of this internal schism, the voice of the solid majority of secular and traditional Israeli Jews who, according to all the polls, wholeheartedly support freedom, equality and pluralism, is stifled. Its beliefs are ignored and its wishes denied. It is held hostage by an extremist, fundamentalist minority, because the occupation reigns supreme.

A Walla! News poll published on Sunday showed that 57 percent of the Israeli public supports surrogacy rights for gay men, but the Knesset this week showed them the finger. A government poll conducted last year reported that 60 percent support adoption right for gay couples, but the government endlessly hems and haws.

Three separate polls conducted in recent months found that close to 80 percent of Israelis, including a majority of Likud voters, support gay marriage, but don’t make Shas Interior Minister Arye Deri laugh.

A similar, unequivocal majority backs civil marriages, open supermarkets and public transportation on Shabbat, formal recognition of Reform and Conservative Jews and breaking the Orthodox stranglehold in general. But instead of diminishing, the control of the Orthodox is tightening and expanding, in return for their ongoing willingness to sustain the occupation.

The liberal majority has learned to live with the situation. It bows its head and shrugs. Israelis hear their leaders, and then convince themselves that the fate of the country is synonymous with the future of the occupation, and when it hangs in the balance - by making peace, for some, or safeguarding the land of our forefathers, for others - relinquishing one's values and beliefs seems like an inescapable imperative.

The liberal majority has gotten used to the fact that civil rights, personal status and the ability of people to live according to their wishes and beliefs are routinely sacrificed to the Moloch of occupation. Personal freedom of choice, as it is enshrined in progressive liberal countries, seems like a distant dream.

Against this backdrop, and in light of the general apathy, the awakening of the past few days is quite surprising. It started because of the Knesset’s blatant decision to deprive gay men of their rights to surrogacy, an esoteric issue, with all due respect, for most of the population, and certainly not one high on its agenda.

But the amazing flip-flop of Benjamin Netanyahu, who was all for gay men just before he turned against them, seemed to strike a raw nerve. It highlighted the arbitrariness of government decisions, its ongoing and unthinking capitulation to religious zealots and the wretched impotence of the secular majority, which must keep on pretending that the dribble on its face is actually rain.

The new threat to the status quo, remote as it may be, stems from the hope - or the danger, as far as the establishment is concerned - that this is not a solitary incident, but a cascading call to arms for secular Israelis to rise up against their oppressors. That the rage over surrogacy, which has already expanded to a general demonstration of support for the LGBT community, won’t stop there, but will keep on gathering energy and momentum and turn into a mass protest movement against Orthodox tyranny, the "Iranization" of Israel and the notion of Jewish superiority as the guiding light of Netanyahu’s coalition.

That the despondent enlightened majority will snap out of its depression, open its windows and yell, like Howard Beale in the movie "Network" “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. There will be changes.”

If, contrary to logic and experience, the fledgling uprising will rise to the level of the social protest movement in the summer of 2011, and certainly if it develops into a comprehensive and sustainable insurrection, Israeli politics will have to change. The parties, including Likud, cannot afford to ignore public opinion, especially with new elections on the horizon. A serious public storm will compel the political establishment to change and will open new opportunities for political newcomers to change the map completely.

And if the liberal revolution is completed, and majority opinion will drive the agenda, whatever new coalition is set up won’t resemble those that preceded it, whether the interminable Netanyahu heads it or not. The ultra-Orthodox will be locked out, possibly together with the religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi. Those on the right will be frantic about abandoning the Greater Land of Israel, those on the left will bemoan the death of the peace process - as if it’s actually breathing - but the silent majority, which suddenly found its voice, will set the tone. And if we’re already living in a world of such utter fantasy, perhaps the law of unintended consequences will save the day: Instead of the occupation corrupting the soul of Israel, as it does now, a decent, fair-minded and egalitarian Israel will bring the occupation to an end.

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