Orthodox MK Makes Landmark Visit to Tel Aviv Gay Center

Otniel Schneller: I don't think one's sexual orientation is relevant. As a legislator and public figure, I try to address the rights of Israel's citizens whoever they are.

MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima ) visited a gay youth center in Tel Aviv on Tuesday to meet with members of the gay community. The club welcomed the visit, saying he is the first Orthodox Knesset member it has ever hosted and hopes he won't be the last.

"I don't think one's sexual orientation is relevant," Schneller said during the visit. "A person's rights have nothing to do with his orientation. As a legislator and public figure, I try to address the rights of Israel's citizens whoever they are."

Otniel Schneller
Michal Fattal

He then listed various laws and bills in which he has been involved out of what he termed a desire to bridge the gap between the Jewish and the modern worlds. These include laws on organ donations and egg donations, and a bill he is currently promoting to set up sperm banks, so that women (whether straight or gay ) would be able to have children without the help of a man.

"There's no reason, even according to halakha [Jewish law], why you can't have a single-sex family," he said.

Nevertheless, he added, he objects to public events such as gay pride parades, which merely "sharpen differences," and to the involvement of minors in the gay rights struggle. Both of these stances were criticized by some audience members afterward. But Schneller, a former secretary general of the Yesha Council of settlements, stressed that he also objects to the involvement of minors in other struggles, such as those against the evacuation of settlements.

Shaul Ganon, the center's director, responded by saying that events such as the gay pride parade are important to promote awareness of the community and its struggle. "Sometimes, it even saves lives," Ganon added.

Another member of the audience urged Schneller to be more public about his opinions. "If your views are so liberal, I want to hear them in the Knesset and the media," he said.

One audience member harshly criticized Schneller for a letter he sent in June 2006 to Dalia Itzik, the Knesset speaker at the time, when a group of gay and lesbian teens visited the Knesset. Schneller wrote that the visit would turn the legislature into "a dictatorship of Sodom and Gomorrah" and that homosexuals should "conduct their lives at home, not visit the Knesset as a group."

Schneller responded on Tuesday that, since then, he has become more familiar with the community and would no longer use such language.