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June 8, 2015 6:51 am

Israel is a Beacon for Gay Rights in the Middle East

avatar by Eliana Rudee / JNS.org

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Tel Aviv's LGBT pride parade on June 7, 2013. Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv’s LGBT pride parade on June 7, 2013. Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv.

JNS.org – Tel Aviv is on a roll when it comes to support for the LGBTQ community.

Since the beginning of June, the Tel Aviv Municipality building was lit up with the LGBTQ community’s rainbow flag as Gay Pride Month kicked off.

Pride Week in Tel Aviv begins on June 7, with events throughout the week. The highlight for many, the Pride Parade, begins on June 12 at Me’ir Park in Tel Aviv.

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This year’s celebration will be even larger than last year’s, with an expected 180,000 participants, making it the continent of Asia’s largest gay pride event.

On June 10, Tel Aviv will also host 40 Years of Pride, a large global conference for LGBTQ leaders. The conference will bring activists, mayors, academics, journalists, educators, lay leaders, and many prestigious speakers to build skills and networks, as well as celebrate LGBTQ progress in Israel.

Tel Aviv is one of the friendliest cities for LGBTQ people (rated #1 in 2012), even though the young country exists in a neighborhood with those who greet LGBTQ individuals not with parades, but with death sentences. Take Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example, which execute on homosexuality charges for acts against Sharia law and “bad deeds.” In Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries, their fates are not much better.

In Israel, it is illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment, adoptions, partner benefits, and the military. While America hid gay military personnel with its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the Israel Defense Forces began protecting by law out men and women in 1993. Considered in our culture to be basic human rights, they are certainly not a given in the Middle East, making Israel the outlier.

Countless LGBTQ celebrities and allies adore Israel, often times due to its progressiveness and open community. After a concert, Lady Gagaexclaimed, “Tel Aviv was magnificent. The worldview of Israel is just not reality. It’s in a beautiful place, the people are in good spirits.” She ended her last concert by saying, “Put your hands up and cheer for yourselves! You are strong, you are brave, you are confident, and I f*cking love you, Israel!”

Likewise, when Elton John performed in Israel, he said that no one could have stopped him from coming to Israel, referring to the pressure of anti-Israel activists and supporters of the anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Like countless other countries where religion dictates the laws of marriage, Israel has yet to legalize gay marriage. Same-sex marriages are recognized by Israel only if conducted abroad, because the court of marriage for Israeli Jews is ruled in accordance with the religious authorities. For gay marriage to become legal, the Rabbinate of Israel would have to make that decision.

Until then, Israeli officials, diplomats, and even ambassadors will celebrate Pride Week annually. During last year’s celebration, the pride flag proudly flew at the U.S. Embassy in Israel, where U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro flew the flag just beneath the American flag. Shapiro attributed the move to “the United States’ strong support for the LGBT community at home and abroad.” But even government buildings in America have yet to display such support during Gay Pride Week—another reason why Tel Aviv’s pride parade is so revered.

While many in the LGBT community fall for anti-Israel and often, anti-Semitic propaganda, ignorantly bashing the Jewish state, they must not forget their own oppression and denial of civil rights. While no democracy is perfect, Israel is the embodiment of what all those who believe in basic human rights want the Middle East to be. The alternative hangs gay teenagers by cranes and throws those accused of homosexuality off rooftops.

So if just happen to be in the neighborhood next week, stop by and see for yourself. With support from the Israeli people and government alike, next week’s festival is bound to be fabulous.

Eliana Rudee is a Fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. She is a Core18 Fellow and a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Follow her on Twitter @ellierudee.

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  • Midrash Rabah, Parshat Bereshit, Chapter 26, Paragraph 5:

    Rabbi Huna taught in the name of Rabbi Yosef:

    The Generation of the Flood* [Dor HaMabul] was not blotted out of the world until they made official marriage contracts between people of the same gender…

    CHRONOLOGY: Rabbi Huna was active around the year 270 of the Common Era.

    * NOTE: Noah and his family were the only survivors of that generation.

  • Midrash Rabah, Parshat Bereshit, Chapter 26, end of Paragraph 5:

    Rabbi Yehoshua bar Levi taught in the name of Rabbi Padyeh:

    Lot prayed all night for mercy for the people of Sodom, and his prayer was accepted.

    When they attempted to commit homosexuality, it was no longer possible to pray for them.

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