The Danger of Liberal Homophobia

As opposed to the rapid and resolute response to racism by a lonely film critic, the response from the governing coalition to rabbi's remarks on gays were mostly flaccid.

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Naftali Bennett paying a condolence call to Rabbi Shalom Cohen, June 23, 2016.
Naftali Bennett paying a condolence call to Rabbi Shalom Cohen, June 23, 2016.Credit: Yaakov Cohen

“Gidi Orsher’s statements are insulting and improper for a film critic to make. The recognition of the value and importance of Ashkenazi culture does not legitimize statements against people who have chosen to live differently. Even as someone who sees Western culture as a supreme value, I respect and support the Mizrahi community and expect every public figure to do the same.” No one actually responded in this way to Army Radio film critic Orsher’s recent comments disparaging Jews of Middle Eastern origin, but the quote is a cribbed version of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s response to Rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s recent homophobic remarks. In responding to remarks by the latter, she actually said: “Even as someone who considers traditional family life a supreme value, I respect and support the gay community.”

As opposed to the rapid and resolute response to the remarks by Orsher, the Army Radio film critic, including demands that he be immediately fired, the response from the governing coalition to Levinstein’s remarks were mostly flaccid. Regev’s response showed clearly that the “traditional family” is a supreme value, but anyone who chooses to live differently will get the consolation prize of respect and a hug. Her response and some of the responses of Education Minister Naftali Bennett are no less a cause for concern than are the statements by the rabbis they sought to condemn.

Bennett did voice objection to Levinstein’s remarks, but he also spoke of clear prohibitions in the Torah and the fact that criminals are no longer executed. In other words, with Regev we are those who chose to live differently than what the “supreme value” calls for, and yet we must be embraced; with Bennett we are criminals who deserve to be pardoned.

The changes in the religious Zionist camp, which led Bennett to feel the need to object to Levinstein’s remarks, are to be welcomed. So is the change on the right, which led Regev to respond and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following a question from the floor by MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), to denounce the current wave of homophobia. But these “denouncements” recall the well-known petition to God to save me from my friends, because I can save myself from my enemies. Or, preserve me from liberal homophobia, which has a pretty face, but basically consists of hierarchy, discrimination and exclusion. Conservative homophobia, which calls gay people perverts or sick and saddles them with causing earthquakes, avian flu and other troubles, is easy to identify and therefore easier to protect against.

Bennett did speak disapprovingly of Levinstein’s remarks, but he and his party are at the forefront of blocking legislation to accord equal rights to LGBT people.

And so the various denouncement-demanders, as well as those who asked Netanyahu to march in the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, are playing into the hands of liberal homophobia. Liberal homophobia, which consents to express some condemnation, might come for a photo-op to the parade, but will not work to fully de-legitimize homophobia or extend full, unconditional equality for the LGBT community.

The Levinstein affair – like the events and the debate surrounding the Gay Pride Parade in Be’er Sheva, which created false symmetry between those who threatened the parade and its participants – should remind us of this: Despite the appearance of equality, the great visibility of the LGBT community especially in the center of the country, legal changes that are mainly the outcome of court rulings and the firm and praiseworthy anti-homophobic stance by some figures, first and foremost President Reuven Rivlin and Rabbi Benny Lau, homophobia is still here. It is still here in both of its forms, the conservative form and the liberal brand of homophobia, which may have a nicer face, but is nevertheless still homophobia.

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