LGBT Groups Begin Fight Against Homophobes in New Israeli Government

The presence of anti-LGBT leader Avi Maoz in Netanyahu's incoming coalition has already inspired civil society groups, with new initiatives including free lesbian weddings and a charity ‘honoring’ the homophobic lawmaker

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Avi Maoz LGBT
Noam leader Avi Maoz, foreground, with the Jerusalem Pride Parade in the background.Credit: Photos: Ohad Zwigenberg / Nettadi / Wikimedia Commons. Artwork: Anastasia Shub
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

When the head of an extremist religious party recently publicized his plan to cancel the Jerusalem Pride Parade, the organization that runs the annual event resolved to “honor” him in a special way: It created a brand-new charity fund in the name of Avi Maoz and announced that the homophobic politician would be notified of every donation with a personal thank-you note.

“We tried to think up a way that we could profit from all of his attempts to bully us,” says Alon Shachar, whose Jerusalem Open House organizes the parade. “For us, it was an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.”

But never in his wildest dreams did the group’s director imagine the campaign would be so successful.

“I thought maybe, in the best-case scenario, we’d get 100 donations,” says Shachar. “But in less than 48 hours we’ve already counted 700, and are going strong. All I can say is we’re going to be very busy today writing those thank-you notes we promised.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister-designate, has since clarified that the Pride parade will continue in Jerusalem as usual.

As part of the ongoing coalition negotiations, Netanyahu’s Likud has handed over considerable power to Maoz, who heads the one-man Noam faction that was part of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance that gained 14 seats in the new parliament and is set to be part of the new extremist governing coalition.

Maoz will be responsible for a division in the Prime Minister’s Office that is responsible for ties with civil society organizations, as well as a special unit in charge of external education programs that has hitherto been under the auspices of the Education Ministry. More than 200 school principals have already signed a petition protesting this handover and expressed their disgust at Maoz’s “racist, homophobic, dark and extreme views.”

Dozens of mayors and regional council heads have joined the rebellion, vowing that Maoz and his extremist views will never gain a foothold in their schools.

In the first two days of the campaign, Jerusalem Open House raised 60,000 shekels (close to $18,000). The money, says Shachar, will be used to promote and organize next year’s Pride parade in the capital. “Unlike our peers in Tel Aviv, we don’t receive a cent from the city to hold this parade,” he explains. “It’s all on us. But given the expressions of solidarity with our community in recent days, we believe there will be a record turnout this time.”

The next Jerusalem Pride Parade is scheduled to take place on June 1, 2023. In recent years, participation was down because of the COVID pandemic, but Shachar is confident that the upcoming parade will exceed the pre-pandemic peak of 30,000 participants.

Participants marching in the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade last June.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP

Wedding deal

Jerusalem Open House is not the only organization to benefit from the panic sparked by Maoz’s appointments.

Israel Hofsheet, a nonprofit dedicated to religious freedom and Jewish pluralism, is taking advantage of the opportunity to promote its civil marriage ceremonies – of a very specific kind.

In an interview with an Orthodox publication last year, Maoz was quoted saying that “the greatest contribution women can make for the state is to marry and raise an honorable family.”

Putting a special twist on this statement, Israel Hofsheet is offering women the opportunity to wed free of charge – provided they marry other women, that is.

Kicking off its brand-new campaign to promote lesbian marriage in Israel, the organization has announced the following deal on its website: “Women who love women, we support your contributing to the state (and to yourselves) in any way you find suitable without having to wait for anyone’s approval – but if what you want to do is get married and raise a family, we’re here for you!”

Any lesbian couple that chooses to marry before the new government is sworn in and then holds the wedding anytime in 2023 will be able to have it officiated by trained representatives from Israel Hofsheet free of charge, including legal consultations. (Civil marriage is not recognized in Israel, which means these couples will not be recognized as married unless they hold an additional ceremony outside Israel.)

According to Israel Hofsheet Executive Director Uri Keidar, close to 50 lesbian couples have already signed up since the campaign went live last Wednesday. “That’s more than double the number we had all year,” he says.

The savings for each couple taking advantage of this opportunity is about 2,000 shekels, he says.

“Beyond the cynicism, we felt that this was an opportunity to show Avi Maoz that we intend to fight him full force and have no intention of going back to the dark ages,” Keidar says.

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