Opinion |

Israel's LGBTs Are in No Party’s Pocket for This Election

The diversity, not to mention the fragmentation, within the LGBT community is the reason it could benefit from a gay party

Ilan Sheinfeld
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An Israeli waves a flag in front of a banner showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a rally to protest against inequality for the LGBT community in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 22, 2018. Thousands of Israeli LGBT advocates and their supporters went on strike across the country Sunday, protesting the exclusion of gay men from a recently passed surrogacy law. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israeli waves a flag in front of a banner showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a rally to protest against inequality for the LGBT community in Tel Aviv, July 22, 2018.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Ilan Sheinfeld

The summer protest held by the LGBT community, bringing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to Tel Aviv’s main square, was an expression of the community’s strength. Such power appealed to many people. However, the path to realizing its electoral potential is not a simple one.

The community is composed of groups with different and often conflicting needs. For example, gay fathers are fighting for a change in the surrogacy law, yet encounter the opposition of lesbians and/or feminists, who view it as “trading in women.” Transgender people are opposed to the law that incriminates johns, the passage of which in the Knesset is seen by feminists as a great achievement. Supporters of the left within the community believe it is impossible to demand equality while there is an occupation, while right-wingers distinguish between the struggle for equality and the nation-state law.

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Three political trends are found within the community: ongoing activism, including the blocking of roads, hanging banners and mounting various displays, with targeted demonstrations; the encouragement of male and female members of the community to enter politics as part of existing parties at the municipal and national levels, and the attempt by this writer to set up a gay party. This diversity has raised issues relating to conserving the community’s strength and the ways of employing it.

The Aguda, Israel’s LGBT task force, is pushing for political initiatives, but stays away from any political identification itself. However, the Aguda rejected my own proposal, when elections were called, to hold a public debate about the political path the community should follow, with the participation of members of all political parties.

The Aguda is trying to establish a common denominator for its operations and for community dialogues it holds, as well as in its political demands. These include a document listing the demands of the community, which was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as position papers issued by the pride struggle campaign.

This mode of operation often leads to the dropping of the demand to amend the surrogacy law, in the name of which we launched our campaign, or to not mentioning the wrongs committed against groups within the community, such as the removal of children from the houses of parents undergoing gender transition. Purist identity politics have taken hold in the community’s discourse, to the point at which there is great caution in using Hebrew, which is so patriarchal and sexist. This creates multiple fragmentation, making it difficult to find a common denominator and to build a political cadre.

Parties now wooing the gay community are discovering its complexity. Amir Ohana, who has advanced nicely in Likud, was mercilessly assailed by community members. People forget his intervention in saving gay fathers who were stranded with their infants in Nepal, and the heavy political price he paid for voting against laws that discriminate against the community.

Yair Lapid evoked strong protest last week for advancing Idan Roll, who until recently was a member of the “New Likudniks,” at the expense of Zehorit Sorek, a religious lesbian woman who is a veteran activist in Yesh Atid. This will find its expression at polling stations.

Meretz is wooing Avi Buskila and Anat Nir. I don’t know Buskila personally. When I tried to talk to him, using different channels, he did not respond. We’ve recently heard about representatives of the gay community joining Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael and the newly founded Achi Yisraeli party. This too won’t ensure the electoral support of the gay community.

The diversity, not to mention the fragmentation, within the LGBT community is the reason I decided that the gay party would bring together and reflect a wide variety of voices from all sectors, communities and branches of Israeli society. In order to avoid the label of left or right, allowing members of the community from the entire political spectrum to support it, I added that with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the party will strive to give its Knesset members the freedom to vote according to their conscience (subject to coalition agreements).

The moving forward of the elections caught us as we were collecting signatures for the purpose of forming the party. We’ve managed to gather 120 founders, but not the financing required. Facing the current political map, I’ve decided to lie low. If a right-wing government is formed it will be more dangerous than its predecessors. I will then continue to form the gay party. A political turnaround could wipe out Meretz and the entire investment the community has made in this party, but it may bring to the Knesset community members from other parties.

In any case, I suggest that all the wooers of our community remember its complexity. We are a community with diverse and conflicting interests, not a homogenous one.

The writer is an author, single father and founder of Shavim party.

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