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March 13, 2018 11:12 am

Honoring Caitlyn Jenner and Heroes of Israel

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Caitlyn Jenner speaking at the 2018 Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala. Photo: Screenshot.

Last Thursday, my organization presented Caitlyn Jenner with the Champion of Israel and Human Rights Award. We also posthumously honored two fallen heroes — Yoni Netanyahu and Taylor Force.

I must confess that I was not entirely shocked, but still unnerved, at the response of people who strongly criticized us for choosing to honor Caitlyn. She has made a lifestyle choice that makes many people uncomfortable, and that clashes with the beliefs of some faith communities. But our point was always that every human life must be viewed as sacred and worthy of protection. The highest Jewish value is the infinite worth of every human being, regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender.

The invective directed at us for this one decision was considerable — but it was also an infinitesimal fraction of what people like Caitlyn endure on a daily basis. And besides the attacks for her choice of lifestyle, Caitlyn also has to contend with criticism from antisemites, who criticize her for her support of Israel.

There are people in her own community who hate Israel more than they care about her rights as a member of the LGBT minority, and therefore condemn her. But Caitlyn rightly points out the major difference between Israel’s protection of members of the LGBT community, and the way that they are brutalized by the Palestinian Authority and other Arab and Muslim states, especially Iran.

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In her address, Caitlyn talked about the common interests — and challenges — of the Jewish people and the LBGT community. “First of all,” she said, “we seem to attract a lot of enemies, don’t we? Tyrants, religious fundamentalists, white nationalists, radical Islamic terrorists, we got them all.”

“I wear that hatred as a badge of honor,” added Jenner. “They hate us because of what we stand for: freedom, opportunity, diversity and most of all, we stand for love.”

“We must continue to make progress globally because there are LBGT people and Jewish people living all over the world,” she said. “We may both be marginalized, and there are countries where we could be imprisoned or killed, but we are resilient, and we are determined.”

“Our challenges vary by nations,” Jenner declared, “but our enemies won’t stop us, and certainly won’t stop me from using all the resource and every tool available to fight for full equality.”

I could not have agreed more with Caitlyn when she said, “I really feel like a true measure of a country’s character is how they treat their minorities. For the entire Middle East and the rest of the world, Israel is a beacon of hope.”

She also correctly observed that “in a region where entire religions are banned, women are persecuted [and] gay men are sentenced to death, Israel is a long-standing refuge for the LGBT people.”

It does not matter if religious Jews object to homosexuality based on Scripture — because we who try and lead Torah lives must protect and preserve life at all times.

Caitlyn has a unique perspective on hatred directed at minorities because — as she explained — she was an eyewitness to the terror attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. She cried as she told this story, and as she also related how her father was one of the American GI liberators of Buchenwald.

Jenner also said that she admired the Jews for their commitment to their families.

Our gala also honored two heroes whom we unfortunately lost to the scourge of terrorism.

We were pleased to present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Elie Wiesel Award in posthumous recognition of his brother Yoni, who died leading the special Israeli forces raid that rescued 102 hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. The award was also given to the parents of Taylor Force, in honor of his service to the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. After surviving the horrors of those two wars, Taylor was tragically murdered while visiting Israel by a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist.

Yoni left a legacy of bravery that helped inspire generations of Israelis. Taylor’s death prompted Congress to write the Taylor Force Act, which will require the US government to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it continues to provide funding to terrorists in Israeli jails, as well as their families. This long overdue step will at least prevent American taxpayer money from being used to create incentives for Palestinians to murder Israelis, Americans or anyone else.

Another honoree was US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, for his work in combatting terror financing. During his remarks, he said, “We have over 700 people at Treasury that are focused on sanctions and sanctions management.” The secretary is a great friend of Israel and also plays a key role in enforcing sanctions against Iran.

Every day brings more and more news of school shootings, terrorist outrages and political unrest around the world. That makes it even more important to recognize, honor and champion the heroes who live among us.

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