40 Years of The Aguda

Shai Doitsh refelcts on four decades of extensive operations of The Aguda and three years as the organization’s chairman.

10450149_10152540450949446_6576610362128104120_nAfter decades of extensive operations that began back in the days when homosexuality was outlawed in Israel, the Aguda this week begins its 40th year of activities for the LGBT community in Israel.

Four decades after the Interior Ministry officials confirmed the registration of the Aguda in Israel, which was then called “The Association for the Human Rights of the Individual” (because it was forbidden to approve an establishment of a formal community organization for LGBT people), chairman of the Aguda Shai Doitsh summarizes three years in office.

They say that Israel’s LGBT community’s situation better, certainly in relation to our neighbors. How did this happen?

“We have to thank the men and women who fought for an entire community. We need to say many thanks to Jonathan Danilowitch (who petitioned the Supreme Court against discrimination by El-Al) and Adir Steiner (who petitioned the Supreme Court to recognized him as an IDF widower) and many others who fought in the High Court for us. It is not obvious. Today, the community in America gets recognition and achievements through imitation of the Israeli system.

“We very quickly realized that the chances that we would succeed as a community to make a difference in the Knesset were remote, and so we challenged the state through the courts, which is exactly what the Americans are doing now.

“Same issue with equality in the IDF. In the past decade the Aguda was asked by the American government to provide information and evidence of LGBT male and female soldiers, for their service and their impact. If we as a community had an impact on American military policy change (canceling the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy), we can be very proud of it.”

Now we are facing a significant change in Aguda activities for the LGBT community.

“After the murder in Bar Noar, the organization was in an economic crisis and a political identity crisis, but we were able to create a clear vision for ourselves and connect the organization back to the community. This process made ​​us realize that we have two notable strengths and two designations in the community.

One is to be a greenhouse of community initiatives, because if we were able to grow from within us Bella Doe’get, IGY, Hoshen and other initiatives, then it’s probably something we know how to do. The second thing is to bring the Aguda back to its former glory. When the founding fathers established the Aguda in 1975, they put the political struggle as their top priority, the advocacy and promotion of legislation. And somewhere we returned the guild to this place. We understood that the Aguda is the body that has the most seniority, experience and public status, and as such is also has the highest ability to change. The Establishment reacts to us as having the greatest strength. ”

How will the change be reflected in the field?

“In the coming months we will separate the children we raised and who exist in the Aguda today, and the Aguda in its new format will focus with community initiatives and give them the support that is required. A good example is the community in Ashdod that we nurture and help. Our help is expressed in our dealings with the mayor, achieving budgets, bringing Hoshen into the schools in the city. But the community itself is a community that is completely independent . For example, if we get a budget from the city, they decide what to do with money. ”

“The Nir Katz Center that was established after the murder in Bar Noar will remain under the Aguda and will serve as part of the representation. The remaining community services under the auspices of the Aguda will be transferred to the other organizations, or will draw new organizations.”

Some of the changes in the organization in the near future will include moving the Bar Noar activity to IGY and splitting north and south branches from the Aguda. Doitsh believes that the Psychosocial service that works under the Aguda will also eventually become an independent entity that will provide social services to the local community in the central region.

“When I talk about the Aguda abroad, I present it as a kind of Jewish mother who took care of her children and did everything for them, up to the stage when they decided they wanted to be independent and leave the nest. But she went on the defensive and renounced them. This mother took a few years to realize that the fact that she knew how to raise independent kids is a strength and not a weakness. Also, it took time for the children to realize that the fact that they stay in contact with the mother doesn’t mean that they’re not independent. Looking back, the retirement of IGY and Hoshen made ​​us arrange the political spectrum, understand what’s the role of each organization and focus on what we do best. ”

“The Aguda turned its attitude towards other organizations 180-degrees. In places where there was almost no cooperation, only struggles and rivalries, and where there was almost no dialogue, there is now collaboration on a daily basis and the role of leading the public moves along.

One example is the subject of conversion therapies. After a great move of the organization HOD (religious gays) that led to the publication of the warning by the Ministry of Health, we joined them to help and promote the legislation. Our legal team has been sitting with them to draft a bill. ”

 40 Years of Pride

As part of the celebrations of the 40th year of The Aguda, the organization in cooperation with A Wider Bridge, will hold an international conference for LGBT leaders entitled “40 years of pride.” The conference will take place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Between June 9th and 11th, 2015, followed by the participation of the guests at Tel Aviv pride events which will be held on June 12.

The highlight of the conference will be a gala evening in the presence of ministers and Knesset members, public officials, community members and local and international LGBT leaders. In this special event the Aguda will thank its thousands of volunteers over the years. “The world is amazed by what the Israeli community was able to do in forty years,” Shai says, “and would very much like to know how we do what we do with so little.”

You were often accused of collaborating with the State for Pinkwashing.

“We are an organization established to work with the state and teach her to give better service to the LGBT community. Though we travel and represent the state and the Israeli community, we are not the shofar of the country. Wherever we go we say what we want to say. Nobody has the right to tell us who we can meet or what to say. We also present the evils in the country and represent the community better than anyone else because we show the complexity. We show the youth who commit suicide, the trans people who are discriminated against and the places where the community is discriminated against by law. ”

What do you think are the most significant achievements of the Aguda?

“The war to cancel homosexuality prohibition, the prohibition of discrimination in the workplace and the establishment of gay pride parades have become important political tools for the community. Today’s youth don’t understand that if in 1975 there were no people who were fighting to establish the Aguda, we couldn’t fight for gay marriage or child surrogacy now.

“The Aguda was also the world’s first LGBT organization headed by a transgender Chairman, Nora Greenberg, representing not only the trans community but the entire LGBT community.”

Are there things that you see as opportunities lost?

“We were not able to make the Aguda home for women and for trans., But we are in the process, and this will happen too. I think we spent a lot of years in fights with other organizations. We have gone through a traumatic process as an organization, and we could’ve finished it earlier. Another miss occurred last December, when the Jewish Home managed to get us out into the streets (after it torpedoed the bill of MK Adi Kol for equality in tax benefits for same-sex couples to those of heterosexual couples), The Aguda missed the place where the community was incorporated which was an opportunity to lead a revolution. ”

What are The Aguda’s next destinations?

“As part of the intensive activity to change the law in Israel that that the Aguda plans, we will run activists who will work in the Knesset on an ongoing basis. They will work in coordination with “LGBT Cells” of the various parties, and with Knesset members. They will be in the Knesset every day to represent the community, to promote legislation and to work with Knesset members and ministers. We have a legal department that writes bills and a Research Department that researches and writes papers on the state of community rights. And we are working on a large public campaign to promote equal rights for the community.