“I’m not homophobic” was Feiglin’s answer to a question by a Jerusalem Post reporter at the end of the event, and therefore set the main topic of the meeting.
Moshe Feiglin sat on Thursday with about thirty gay community leaders. Between him and the activists sat a number of journalists from all the leading media, Galatz, Ynet, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, with their microphones pointed at him. Some took notes on paper or on a mobile screen, and at the back of the room was a threatening television camera, as if it were a dress rehearsal for President Obama’s visit to the country.
What did Feiglin come looking for at the Bar Noar from the gay community leaders? This is a question I’ve been pondering for a week now, since I received my own invitation to join the gathering.
A bit less than three months ago Moshe Feiglin, then a candidate in the primaries for the Likud party, was marked as the number one enemy of the LGBT community, following a column he originally wrote back in 2009, titled “I am a proud homophobe”. In that article Feiglin declared that homosexuality is “the destruction of the definition of a family, which is the cornerstone of every culture,” and added , “I have a great fear of the phenomenon of homosexuality when it comes out of the closet, gets a broad public legitimacy and crumbles the army and nation.” A friend of mine found this column at the last minute before the Likud primaries, and shared it on Facebook with a warm recommendation “to read and then decide if you want to place a homophobe of the worst kind in the Knesset.” Within two days the column was shared by about 900 people, exposing it to tens of thousands of their friends and to the media. And so a new threat appeared on the radar of the LGBT community: the number one enemy – Moshe Feiglin. “For a while now I’ve felt so persecuted, that this man was elected to the most major party. I hope someone sees sense there,” wrote another friend. This all happened a little over two months ago.
Will this Thursday be the day when Feiglin will come down from the community’s threat radar?
The beginning wasn’t promising. Moshe Feiglin lowered expectations, declared his opposition to gay sex, and his faith in a traditional family, the classic normative one, with a man and a woman, and he said so a number of times so that nobody misunderstood that he is not referring to our families.
Feiglin declared that “the importance of the meeting is its existence,” but to us it’s not good enough by now, not for these people in the audience. These are the same people who suffered from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin year after year at Pride Meetings at the Knesset, telling of the importance of his coming to the meeting and his intense love for his wife. It worked for the first time in 2010, raised a grin for the second time in 2011, and in 2012 he was interrupted by community activist Avi Sofer, saying enough’s enough, times have changed, and we, gay, lesbian, bi and trans, are no longer willing to be grateful to every politician who is willing to talk to us publicly.
But Feiglin isn’t Rivlin, and it seemed that he really came to try and start a dialogue, and not only to be photographed. Dialogue that serves him? No doubt. Dialogue that serves us?
The subject of surrogacy was raised later in the evening , and Feiglin showed a sincere interest, but also a degree of insensitivity. One of the guys described the process of the state’s recognition of his son, who he conceived with his partner via surrogacy procedure in the United States, where they were both recorded as the child’s parents. In Israel it will take them four years, bureaucracy, and a social worker … “What’s the problem?” Feiglin asked. “You should be satisfied that you’ll be recognized as a parent.”
At this stage of the evening, boundaries had already been marked. Feiglin resists the LGBT family, opposes equality values, and won’t assist in parenting. On the other hand, he does not see homosexuality as a greater defect than desecration of Shabbat in public, not even a desecration of family and nation, but he gave an explicit declaration that he’ll protect our freedom. But wait a minute, freedom to do what?! Feiglin did not elaborate.
Where, then, can we reach agreement and cooperation? Where Feiglin and us have a chance to agree is the concern for the safety of LGBT youth, especially among the religious public. This was when I raised a subject that I first heard about from my friend Zehorit Shorack: will Moshe Feiglin be ready to take a position in relation to religious teachers, to have them be aware of the subject and ensure the safety of LGBT youth in the education system? Will he collaborate with us in order to give teachers the training and tools to ensure their students are safe? It is clear to everyone that there are gays in the Yeshivas, lesbians in the Ulpanas, and bi and trans. Teachers know about it but are too embarrassed to take responsibility and allow these students to remain part of the society in which they live. Knesset member Moshe Feiglin nods, there’s something to talk about. I believe him. Later on he is asked to support the expansion of student rights law in order to provide additional protection on the basis of sexual orientation. Feiglin, surprisingly, also agrees immediately.
What did Feiglin come looking for at the Bar Noar from the gay community leaders? I will allow myself to carefully guess. Moshe Feiglin came to cleanse himself from the stain that had been glued to him. He talks to people in his community, the national religious. Some of them have gay sons, others certainly have gay friends. He’s a witness to the change that the religious society has gone through with its attitude toward gays and lesbians in the last decade. He also sees in the past two years LGBT activists within the Likud party, those who brought him here. Feiglin knows which direction the wind blows, and he knows that as long as the subject is talked about, so is the process accelerated. Inherently stains are easier to remove while they’re fresh and difficult to remove as time passes. Feiglin is not going to be on the wrong side of history. Today he can buy himself a place as the marker of the liberal tolerant right-wing, just by being first of his kind holding on to the subject bravely. Will he do it? It remains to be seen. I believe it was the talk of this Shabbat in the synagogues.