Opinion

An Office Worth More Than All Pride Parades

Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv, February 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

“An island of sanity in a crazy country.” “A worthy response to Smotrich’s halakhic state.” “Finally Israel has something to be proud of.” These are only a few examples of the headlines that could have appeared on the day when, for the first time, an openly gay man was appointed justice minister.

But Amir Ohana is not just a gay man. Unlike other gay men, he chose the wrong side. A strange combination of gay and right-wing, which simply doesn’t make sense to liberals. That’s why he is reduced to being described as an “ass licker” or compared to Caligula’s horse.

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You know what, let’s say it’s true, and Ohana really did pave his way up the ladder by toadying. Isn’t that what many others do? Didn’t they toady to Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay when they still pinned hopes on him? Isn’t Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg toadied to and flattered?

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After all, if it were a different gay politician, the criticism would be different. They probably would have said it’s a shame that this is the only way a gay man can get ahead, but if that’s what’s required to improve the situation of the LGBT community in Israel, it’s not so terrible.

Focusing on Ohana’s sexual proclivity and nothing else wouldn’t be unfair to him. Actually it’s necessary, because throughout his career the criticism directed at him has been mainly over this issue. Especially well known is the criticism that he didn’t vote for every pro-LGBT law, his excuse being coalition discipline. It turns out that a gay man is expected to reduce himself to narrow identity politics, and must conduct himself according to the demands of the community.

His abstention from voting with the coalition when pro-LGBT proposals came up didn’t suit his critics. Their thinking is so narrow that they don’t understand that had he supported the coalition, he couldn’t have promoted other pro-LGBT measures. He would have been punished (for breaching coalition discipline) for voting in favor of laws that would not have passed in any case. Even the opposition was unable to forge a strong defense of those laws. The Arab parties – what can you do? – don’t like Ohana, the gay MK.

It’s quite symbolic that a day after the announcement of his appointment as a senior minister, the Jerusalem pride parade took place. The truth must be told: Gay pride parades in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel have not advanced the status of the LGBT community in Israel. The appointment of Ohana as justice minister makes a stronger statement than any parade.

Could anyone have imagined a few years ago that in a right-wing coalition, ultra-Orthodox parties would sit with a gay man? Yigal Guetta was thrown out of Shas because he attended the wedding of his gay nephew, and now Arye Dery is sharing the cabinet with Ohana.

This influences public awareness far more than any pink truck adorned with feathers or men dancing in G-strings. Ohana has taken a big step for the benefit of the LGBT community, even if members of the community criticized him. And that’s the point.

For those who badmouth him, the problem is not the actual toadying, but whom you toady to. Had Ohana behaved according to LGBT rules, he would have been very popular. But Ohana plays by different rules and apparently he’s smart enough to do so, because it paid off for him.