The fact that the number of participants in the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv this year was larger than in previous parades should gladden the heart of anyone who favors equality and freedom, and anyone who despises prejudice.
Not everyone understands this. Many people wonder, even if not out loud, “What is there to be proud of here.” But the parade should not be seen only as a demonstration of identification with the gay community. I won’t be exaggerating if I say that it was a show of defiance against the winds blowing from the Knesset and the cabinet – winds of deliberate discrimination between Jews and Arabs, and of preference for the ultra-Orthodox and Hardali (Zionist ultra-Orthodox) community and its values over the good of the general public.
It was a wake-up call against the blow that’s been dealt to Israel’s Declaration of Independence by means of the violation of the principle of equality – a violation whose epitome is the nation-state bill, which turns the principles of equality and freedom from universal values into pawns in the hands of politicians.
The opposition must adopt the winds that blew from the Pride Parade as a central component of its struggle.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is building his power on a system of achievements, both real and imagined. He was able to convince the public of the assessment that Israel is ready for take-off. Author Amos Oz is apparently right when he says that the plane really is taking off and the passengers are happy – but that’s only because they don’t know that they are about to collide with a gigantic rock. That’s the role of the opposition: It must expose the fact that the plane is taking off from the wrong runway.
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For that purpose it must aspire to set at least a part of the public agenda. In my opinion, the struggle for absolute equality between men and women, against the exclusion of women in the public space and against gender segregation is what most Israelis want. I’m not among those who get angry about notices calling on women to dress modestly in clearly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. But beyond that there should be no compromise.
We should not agree to a dress code in secular schools, to separation between women and men in the Israel Defense Forces, to the prohibition against women singing in public places, and so on. A smart opposition won’t agree to compromises on these issues, because every compromise will constitute a threat to the worldview and lifestyle of most Israelis.
This is a struggle that could create an ad hoc alliance between secular and traditional Jews, who are deeply divided on other issues. Those defined as traditional respect the faith and the believers, celebrate the holidays according to Jewish law, and some even visit a synagogue from time to time. Most are identified with the right when it comes to their attitude toward Arabs.
But at same time, these individuals do not observe any of the ultra-Orthodox or religious decrees that are subject to public controversy. Most of them travel on Shabbat, their children’s lifestyle is as permissive as that of secular young people, and they oppose discrimination and exclusion when it comes to women.
Cooperation in the struggle for equality won’t cover up the other disparities between secular and traditional Jews, but it will grant legitimacy to an ongoing dialogue. The question confronting us is whether Israel will be a religious state, dominated by messianic longings, or a modern state, free and equal.
We need a determined opposition to confront a government that separates the value “Jewish” from the value “democratic.”