Welcome to Israel: Good for Gays, Bad for Everyone Else

Israel forcibly rules over millions of Palestinians and imprisons asylum seekers like they are criminals - but at least it treats LGBTs fairly.

Carolina Landsmann
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Carolina Landsmann

“Naftali wanted to bring in a traditional Mizrahi who had a difficult childhood but succeeded,” is how MK Ayelet Shaked explained the decision to add Eli Ohana to Habayit Hayehudi’s Knesset slate to her colleagues. This way of thinking is also evident in some of the other parties running in the upcoming election: They included a “woman,” a “Mizrahi” (or Jew of Middle Eastern origin), an “Ethiopian,” a “disabled person,” a “religious Jew,” a “traditional Jew” and a “Russian” on their tickets.

Such tickets make a mockery of the idea of representation, but these parties apparently prefer to represent nothing but the idea of representation. If they had any interest in truly being representative, they all would, for instance, first of all have held primaries.

The public also shares this superficial view of representativeness. The left, for instance, has been critical of the sparse representation of women in realistic places on Likud’s ticket. But who cares if a party that has brought the country into international isolation, espouses diplomatic rejectionism, promotes racist legislation and foments wars continues doing all this while equalizing the number of women and men on its slate?

What possible interest could feminist women who aren’t Likud members or followers have in aspiring for its slate to have more women? Political blogger Tal Schneider supplied an explanation: “If male MKs are entitled to be either harmful or helpful, then so are women.”

The same logic is employed by left-wing Mizrahim, who welcomed MK Miri Regev’s high placement on Likud’s ticket. True, they agree, Regev is a racist – but she’s a Moroccan racist. In other words, it’s true that this is a giant step forward for racism, but it’s also a small step forward for Mizrahim. After all, if male Ashkenazi MKs are permitted to be racist, why shouldn’t this also be permissible for female Mizrahi MKs?

While Israeli Arabs were politically pushed to pour all their multitudinous identities and worldviews into a single party box and adopt a broad, inclusive Israeli Arab identity, the Israeli melting pot seems to have exploded. If in the past, people contemptuously refused to answer questions about whether their Jewish identity took precedence over their Israeli one (or vice versa), today they are fleeing the umbrella of Israeli identity and seeking to belong to narrow, exclusionary identities.

Moreover, they make do with justice, or with struggling for justice, only for the reference group from which they derive their sense of identity. True, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. aptly said. But in Israel, a left-wing woman is expected to rejoice, as a woman and as a Mizrahi, over the fact that Regev placed high in the gang of racist chauvinists known as Likud.

All this was apparently inevitable. Israeli identity is mired up to its neck in the unjust enterprise of occupying millions of Palestinians. So after almost five decades of occupation, Israeli identity had to flee to regions in which it could stop feeling ashamed and gain a respite from itself – to build its moral persona as if there were no occupation, and to occupy as if there were no moral persona.

The big winner from the moral abandonment of denying the occupation (other than Yair Lapid) has been the LGBT struggle. This struggle disconnected itself from the broader battle for equality, and in exchange it was accepted into the consensus. Even the right-wing rapper known as “The Shadow” married a homosexual couple. And even the leader of the extreme right, Naftali Bennett, voices progressive views with regard to same-sex marriage: “Official recognition, no; rights, yes.”

Anyone making sympathetic noises over this should recall that even straight people can’t marry in a civil ceremony in Israel. Gay rights even serve as a tool for diplomats to glorify the progressiveness of the only democracy in the Middle East, in contrast with Islamic State or Syria.

True, Israel forcibly rules over millions of Palestinians; it hunts down asylum seekers, imprisons them like criminals and lets them freeze in the desert; and its politicians announce their desire to “transfer” Israeli Arabs out of the country (and thereby merit being deemed to have “veered left”). Hey – but if you’re a homosexual Jew, or even a homosexual tourist passing through the region, there’s no place better than Israel.

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