The Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. held an official event on Tuesday to commemorate "pride month" and celebrate Israel's LGBT community. The event was hosted at the embassy building, and featured speeches by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and by Taleen Abu Hanna, a past winner of the "Miss Trans Israel" beauty pageant.
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This is the second year that the embassy is organizing such an event. Last year, the event took place shortly after the terror attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and this year's event also opened with a moment of silence honoring the victims of that attack, which specifically targeted members of the LGBT community.
Dermer mentioned the Pulse attack in his speech, and said that "Just as the noxious fumes of antisemitism ultimately poison all of society, so too hatred towards the LGBT community threatens all of us. That is why we must stand together to fight that hatred and to defend open societies, tolerance, and equality and dignity for all."
He also stated that "the struggle of the LGBT community in Israel is far from over, but much has been accomplished," pointing out to the fact that LGBT organizations have been "operating openly in Israel for 40 years," and that Tel Aviv has been hosting a popular "pride parade" for two decades now.
Dermer also used the occasion to attack what he described as "an old anti-Semitism masked in a new form" - progressive criticism of Israel. "Despite all its imperfections, Israel is a great force for good. Not just on LGBT rights but on all rights. On all the things that are most important if we are to live in a world of decency, compassion and hope," he stated.
The event was attended by a mixed crowd of officials from Jewish-American organizations, foreign diplomats, and activists working on issues of importance to the LGBT community. There was also representation from the Congressional LGBT Caucus. Mark Bromley from the Council for Global Equality, a leading group working for LGBT rights in the U.S. and around the world, told Haaretz that he's happy the Israeli embassy is holding the event for the second year in a row, and that disagreements on other issues relating to Israel, most prominently the conflict with the Palestinians, should be addressed separately than Israel's record on this issue.
Many Israelis take pride in the fact that Israel is the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and last week's Tel Aviv pride parade was attended by close to 200,000 people, according to police and organizers' estimates. On the other hand, the Israeli government, under the pressure of a number of religious parties, still doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, and recent attempts to change that through legislation ended in failure. In 2015, a 16 year-old girl, Shira Banki, was murdered by a religious, right-wing Jewish extremist who stabbed her to death at the Jerusalem pride parade.