The Israeli Knesset is about to make a tragic mistake with far reaching consequences if it votes to ban Gay Pride rallies. This anti-democratic action will alienate secular Jews - gay and straight - worldwide and force stalwart defenders of Israel to rethink their allegiance. American Jews overwhelmingly reject the intolerance of our homegrown Christian Right, so the notion that we will blindly support Jewish Pat Robertsons in Jerusalem is a dangerous miscalculation.
Recently, the Knesset proposed one amendment that would empower the Jerusalem mayor to prohibit Gay Pride and other parades based on religious sensitivities or alleged threats to public order. A first reading of this bill passed 40-23. In a second, more far-reaching bill, the Shas Party called for a ban on all pride parades throughout the country. This measure - which threatens freedom of speech and assembly - was approved by a vote of 41-21.
According to Ynet News, final passage of the bills requires two more votes - which are unlikely to come prior to the June 21 Pride march in Jerusalem. Last year, authorities did not sanction the rally, claiming that they couldn't guarantee the safety of Pride marchers. The event was finally moved to an alternative, secured indoor location after right-wing zealots threatened participants.
This year, march organizers again have been met with threats of violence and intimidation by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who seem like Jewish versions of Fred Phelps. One extremist group even put a hex on would-be participants and the police.
"To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them, and may evil pursue them; they will not be [acquitted] of their transgressions from heavenly judgment," reads the curse from Eda Haredit rabbis.
Unfortunately, the actions of the Bush administration may have emboldened Israel's religious right and offered a fundamental misreading of American Jewry. The President has created a dangerous marriage between conservative Jews and the Rapture Right, who want to usher in the Second Coming. The point man for this unholy alliance is Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, leader of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The Rabbi recently referred to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell as a "mild mannered and wonderful person."
Israel's real power base in America, however, does not come from the outspoken Rabbi Eckstein, but from the quiet majority of moderately religious or secular Jews. Many attend synagogue. Some don't. Others follow kosher diets, while some eat bacon without so much as a pang of guilt. The Israeli right probably would not even consider them real Jews.
Still, American Jews, like myself, have long defended Israel's right to exist in bars, campus protests, over office water coolers and on talk radio programs. Without fanfare, we have battled against Anti-Semitism in rural America - sometimes with our fists. We have challenged misconceptions and fought stereotypes and in the process brought support and understanding for Israel.
Most of us would like to see peace, including a Palestinian state - but not at the expense of security. However, we fervently reject Messianic Jews that believe God intended for Israel to have all of the land. To us, this sounds very similar to extremists in Saudi Arabia who say God forbids "infidels" from intruding on Muslim lands.
To the secular majority, Israel is an emotional home, as well as an insurance policy. Each time we see an up tick of Anti-Semitism in Europe or America, we thank God for the existence of Israel. But most of all, we see the Jewish State as an oasis of liberty and hope in the Middle East. It is a nation where there are elections, a free media, and where people openly debate key issues.
Continued support, however, is contingent on Israel remaining a modern nation that respects human rights, diversity and religious freedom. If the ultra-Orthodox think for one second that American and European Jews have any intention of supporting the Jewish version of Iran, they've got another thing coming. It is inexcusable that people, who have felt the sting of persecution, now mimic the tyrants who drove them to the shelter of Israel.
While the Knesset humiliated itself debating this draconian measure, an estimated three million people celebrated Gay Pride in Brazil. Perhaps, my Israeli "insurance policy" has expired, as I now feel safer in Sao Paulo than Jerusalem. If Israeli conservatives ultimately pass these bills, they may relish their small-minded victory, but they are about to find out what a small minority they truly are. If I can't march at Pride, maybe it is time for people like me to march on.
I deleted my first comment because it just didn't say all i wanted to say.
As a faithful yarmulke-sporting queer female, hearing news from our community like this disturbs me and overwhelms me. "Torah" Jews have forgotten Hillel's wisdom- that it isn't about fundamentalism, it's about lovingkindess towards your fellow human being. "Recite the Torah while I stand on one foot..."
I also want to thank you, wayne, for at long last addressing a topic so close to your jewish heritage. The ex-gay movement is by and large a Christian one, save for JONAH (a disgraceful presence among our people)- so most of the ex-gay discussions of intolerance don't really apply to me. However, nothing gives me greater pain than seeing such hate directed at those in our own community. have we as a people not suffered enough? Now we have to pick off eachother until we find the "TRUE" "righteous remnant" that will be the "REAL" Jews loved by God in the end? I call upon every child of Israel to pray for chesed amongst our people.
posted by Emily K, at
6/12/2007 10:54 PM
I could barf every time I hear about 'offending someone's relgious sensibilities'---tough shit! They offend my sensibilites for equality and human rights. The Dalai Lama says, "my religion is kindness"---he's one of the few who gets it! Red V
posted by Anonymous, at
6/13/2007 9:41 AM
I remember seeing a documentary opn PBS about the liberation of concentration camps after the Nazi defeat by American forces. The documentary showed soldiers liberating gay inmates and then leaving them behind (literally dropping the invalid and infirm on the ground and walking away) as they found why they were in the camp. It was the saddest moment I have ever watched on TV. Liberty and justice for all, except if you are gay. Word to Israel: if anyone should know differently. . .
posted by richard schillen, at
6/13/2007 9:46 AM
The fact that the marginalization of ANY minority group could occur within ISRAEL of all places shows that humanity is lost. Sometimes (not on my better days), I think that human beings are simply a bad joke, but I know that's no way to live. But I fear that it's true. The realization that the bigotry of some people outweighs the lessons from the Holocaust is a staggering, saddening thought.
posted by Chris L., at
6/13/2007 10:27 AM
I know what you mean Chris--the homophobia of orthodox Jews and many African Americans is hard to fathom considering what they've had to endure. Those who take the high road will learn the lessons of history and treat their neighbors the way they would wish to be treated, while those who take the low road will need another scapegoat to dump their toxic rage on. We're one of the few groups left that they can get away with persecuting. Gary (NJ)
posted by Anonymous, at
6/13/2007 10:43 AM
Let's face it, we are the last vestige of hatred left, globally. What is equally disturbing is that the vast majority of African-Americans are offended when we compare our struggle for equality to theirs simply because many of us are white and could hide our sexual orientation. This is all based on religious bigotry, always has been always will be and it is religious bigotry that is fueling resistance to marriage equality. I would be more than surprised if the bigots in Israel succeed in getting their way. If they do, then they will be aligning themselves with Islamic extremists.I find it quite revealing that no western leader has mentioned anything about this.
We will never totally eradicate homophobia. BUT the main victory has already been won, so let's stop being so sad and forlorn! The gay rights movement has made homophobia a prejudice that primarily exists amongst the ignorant, uneducated and/or brainwashed.
posted by Chris L., at
6/13/2007 2:12 PM
Thank you Wayne for a powerfully argued piece. As a proud gay Jew who has been building bridges between communities through my books and talks for over fifteen years, this kind of hatred coming from Israel shocks and saddens me. My hope is that the secular majority will not let this go further, and/or the Israeli Supreme Court will reverse the law if it passes.
posted by Lev Raphael, at
6/13/2007 6:06 PM
I wouldn't associate the miscalculation of Israel's parliament with Orthodoxy alone. The Knesset voted OVERWHELMINGLY in favor of a nation-wide ban on gay marches.
Lebanon is a better model of secular multi-ethnic democracy than Israel for the Middle East. Turkey too.
posted by Anonymous, at
6/15/2007 9:18 AM