Advertisement 1

Adam Zivo: Israel’s pro-LGBTQ record is not 'pinkwashing'

Israel at 75: Even at its most intolerant, Israel is miles above its neighbours

Get the latest from Adam Zivo straight to your inbox

Article content

As Israel marks the 75th anniversary of its founding this year, the National Post is hosting a five-month celebration of the “startup” nation, telling the remarkable story of its rebirth and resilience against all odds.

Advertisement 2

Story continues below

Article content

Israel is a bastion of LGBTQ acceptance in a region that otherwise beats, executes and imprisons queer people. Though critics have tried to dismiss these human rights victories as cynical “pinkwashing,” those accusations are reductive and offensive.

In Israel, the LGBTQ community has had legal anti-discrimination protections since 1992. Over the past 30 years, gay couples have gained most of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts — including the ability to co-adopt children and inherit property.

Unfortunately, Israel doesn’t allow civil marriages and only permits individuals to be wed through religious institutions. While this policy functionally bans same sex marriage, it isn’t intentionally homophobic since all civil marriages, regardless of orientation, are affected (i.e. interfaith marriages aren’t conducted, either).

Advertisement 3

Story continues below

Article content

However, since 2006, Israel has recognized civil marriages performed abroad, including same sex marriages, meaning that gay couples who marry outside of Israel are able to enjoy de facto marriage equality. While not ideal, it’s proven to be a functional workaround.

Barriers to same sex marriage were further reduced last summer, when an Israeli court ruled that the government must recognize civil marriages officiated through an online service run out of the U.S. state of Utah. This opens the door for Israeli couples of all orientations to enter civil marriages without leaving the country.

These LGBTQ-friendly laws are underpinned by an accepting social climate. A 2019 poll shows that 79 per cent of Israelis support same sex marriage or civil unions. Pride parades have been a fixture in major Israeli cities for decades.

Article content

Advertisement 4

Story continues below

Article content

Tel Aviv is considered a gay mecca — astoundingly, an estimated 25 per cent of its residents are thought to be LGBTQ. Gay bars and beaches are ubiquitous. Residents report feeling safer there than in many European capitals, such as Berlin.

Not all of Israel is like Tel Aviv, though. In Jerusalem, residents are far more religious and conservative, which means that LGBTQ life is more subdued and somewhat hidden. Ultra-orthodox protesters habitually oppose Jerusalem Pride, sometimes violently for example, in 2015, an ultra-orthodox radical stabbed six people, one fatally.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are Israel’s two poles of acceptance — other Israeli cities are said to exist on some middle ground between them. Yet even at its most intolerant, Israel is miles above its neighbours. In the Arab world, homosexuality is deeply taboo and generally a criminal offence punishable with long prison sentences.

Advertisement 5

Story continues below

Article content

Last October the severed head and decapitated torso of a 25-year old gay Palestinian man was found discarded in the West Bank. He had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Israel two years earlier.

He wasn’t the only one to seek shelter. Around 90 LGBTQ Palestinian asylum-seekers currently live in Israel. Unfortunately, these exiles rely on temporary residency permits that need to be renewed every six months and don’t permit employment, leaving them in a crushing limbo that, while awful and precarious, is still much better than being murdered.

One would expect that Israel’s leadership on LGBTQ rights would be recognized and appreciated. Even if you believe that Israel has serious faults, it’s possible to see that life isn’t black and white. Societies can simultaneously have good and bad aspects.

Advertisement 6

Story continues below

Article content

Yet for Israel’s most ideological critics, there can be no moral complexity. In their need to see Jews as totally and irredeemably evil, they dismiss Israel’s LGBTQ leadership as nothing more than “pinkwashing.”

The term “pinkwashing” is one of those vague pejoratives that can morph into whatever critics need it to be, but the core idea is that Israel’s commitment to LGBTQ rights is somehow inauthentic.

But this doesn’t make any sense. Israel’s pro-LGBTQ laws were forced into existence by the supreme court, which ruled in response to legal challenges spearheaded by local LGBTQ activists. Successive Israeli governments did not manufacture pro-LGBTQ laws to dazzle the west. They simply respected an independent judiciary that channelled the demands of Israeli civil society.

Advertisement 7

Story continues below

Article content

Recommended from Editorial

  1. Palestinians gather in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem before the Friday noon prayer on Jan. 27, 2023. Raheel Raza, a Pakistani-born Canadian Muslim, writes that she loves Israel so much, she has visited there 13 times.

    Raheel Raza: I'm a Muslim and I love Israel. Here's why

  2. None

    Danielle Kubes: The truth behind Israel's curiously high fertility rate

As for widespread pro-LGBTQ social sentiments, that’s simply not something that any government can conjure out of the blue. In every country where LGBTQ rights have been normalized, acceptance has had to percolate from the ground up, and this process has always been facilitated by dedicated community activists.

There is no top-down alternative — especially in a liberal democracy where political leaders contort themselves to match public opinion, not the other way around.

Allegations of “pinkwashing” rely on gross ignorance of how social change actually happens — or perhaps on the belief that Israel is an exception and doesn’t function like other societies.

Advertisement 8

Story continues below

Article content

To these critics, perhaps the Jews, unlike everyone else, do not actually push for social change from below because they are puppets of their government. Agents of a shadowy and deceitful cabal. If that sounds antisemitic, that’s because it is.

LGBTQ Jews spent decades fighting for their rights and successfully convinced fellow citizens that being queer is not a big deal. They pushed for institutional and legal reforms and earned their victories. They continue to work tirelessly amid ongoing battles. Israeli political leaders who understand the social benefits of these changes have every right to brag about them.

If some people want to use the term “pinkwashing” to smear Israeli tolerance as inauthentic, that’s their problem. Let Tel Aviv’s pride parades march unbothered.

National Post

Article content

Get the latest from Adam Zivo straight to your inbox

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

To contribute to the conversation, you need to be logged in. If you are not yet registered, create your account now - it's FREE.

Join the Conversation

Shopping essentials

  1. Advertisement 1

    Story continues below

This Week in Flyers