Popular Israeli economic magazine Globes published its annual list of 40 Most Promising People in Israel, and the right-wing gay Member of Knesset Amir Ohana made the list. Below is the interview with him.
When Amir Ohana was a child, he dreamed of being a string-scorching stage-ripping guitarist, like Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses. He received his first electric guitar sometime at the end of primary school, learned to play on his own, and was a member of two bands with which he performed in Beer Sheva and the area. He became a local youth music sensation. To continue his musical career, he applied to the military band in the IDF, and for this purpose he asked for a meeting with legendary guitar teacher Yacov Ravitz, brother of singer Yehudit Ravitz.
“I was there once,” laughs Ohana, “and I never went again, because to learn everything from sctatch seemed to me like going backward. At the audition I played Bach and they were very impressed by me, but then they asked me to play what was written, and of course I failed.”
But musical failure became only an anecdote in the resume of Mr. Ohana, who continues to play in the very little spare time he has – even today, as a member of Knesset and the father of twins aged three. The energy that he gave to his music went into studying law and later to political activity in the Likud, making him the party’s first openly gay Knesset Member.
There was a time where the words “LGBT caucus” and “Likud” were an oxymoron.
“There was nothing like this before and we decided that it was time for right wing homosexuals to have a home. At Likud we were welcomed with open arms by Miri Regev, Akonis and Gila Gamliel.”
And the activists in the field?
“We made sure to reach all of the center’s conference, the branch offices, and because of that I could run for the Tel Aviv district. Not as a gay candidate, but as a regular one.”
You’re not embellishing reality a bit?
“Of course there’s homophobia, but we put it in the closet”.
Ohana is the son of Moroccan immigrants who came to Israel in the ’50s. His father co-founded the Dimona reactor facility. The family lived in Beer Sheva, and when he was in the fifth grade they moved to the Lehavim. “The place I wanted to get to the most in my childhood was my father’s work in Dimona, but I knew there was no chance because children were not allowed there. During vacations as a high school senior I was hired there, and for me it was kind of a dream coming true. ”
At the age of 15 he came out. His parents, he says, went through a difficult process to accept him fully. “When I told my friends in high school, everybody took it well,” says Ohana. “Only one of them kept his distance. Years later I realized why, when I met him at one of the clubs of the community. It must have threatened him.”
Ohana served in the military police, signed up to a three-year permanent stint and afterward began to study law at the College of Management in Rishon Letzion. To finance his studies he worked in the unit that prevents offenses at Ben Gurion Airport, until he was accepted to serve in Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). “Since 1994 openly gay soldiers served in the IDF. That happened much later in the US Army. We are one of the most advanced countries regarding legislation on behalf of LGBT people and in society’s attitude to LGBT people we are in a good place.”
The coalition partners of your party do not really show this tolerance to members of the gay community.
“The religious parties are extremist. The obsession with the Jewish Home party exposes the hypocrisy of the left, because they and the Arabs, who also don’t like the community, are potential partners – so they emphasize the Jewish Home and Shas.”
After expertise in prosecution and six years in Shin Bet, Ohana began his legal career in the office of attorney Yarom Halevy, who specializes in criminal cases. Four years later he opened his own office, because he wanted to be his own man, but also because he became interested in politics and entered the Likud LGBT caucus.
His partner for the last 12 years, Alon, a merchant in the capital market, has also been a member of the Likud party since 1993. They have twins who were born in the United States through surrogacy, and they live in Tel Aviv. When the Knesset discussed the gas outline, there were claims against Ohana, that he’s in favor of the outline because he and his spouse hold bonds in Delek. This Ohana denies.
The argument against you was your failure to vote in favor of LGBT rights bills.
“I caught fire, and I’m not sorry. In the intersection where I stood I would have gotten snatched anyway. So a few gay leftists labeled it as something ridiculous. I was elected as a representative of Tel Aviv and I’m also gay. I don’t know anyone from the coalition who voted against [the community] and therefore I did not vote. Netanyahu’s government gave the biggest budget to organizations active in the community. To Beit Dror, that takes care of LGBT youth who were thrown out of their homes, the budget increased from six million to nine million shekels, and so did the budget for the pride parade.”
But you are not among the most enthusiastic supporters.
“I’ve participated in the parades for 20 years now. There is controversy in the community about them and we are aware of these doubts. If there is a parade, it is important to have the rainbow flag flown alongside the Israeli flag and not only the Palestinian flag.”
Ohana entered the Foreign Affairs and Security committee instead of Oren Hazan because of his background as a major in the reserves and his service at the Shin Bet. “I am also the chairman of the subcommittee on military personnel and a member of the subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services – the ultimate place to be in.”
Is that your aim? A security role?
“I’m at the beginning of my political career, so it’s ridiculous to talk about one kind of role or another, but everyone who enters political life wants to have influence.”