Ministry of Tourism Suspends Budget for LGBT Tourism

Author: A Wider Bridge Staff
Published: April 20, 2016

According to recent reports, the Ministry of Tourism has decided to suspend the allocation of the special budget to encourage inbound LGBT tourism. The Ministry did not say what it intends to do with the budget, and if there’s an intention, or if it’s even possible, to transfer the money to the Ministry of Education and Welfare, which is responsible for the organization in the community. The news broke Tuesday on Ynet.

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The Tourism Ministry’s $2.9 million investment in a campaign to attract tourists coming to Israel to participate in the parade created a backlash from the LGBT organizations, which would rather see the money redirected to the real needs of the community.

The only group that didn’t protest was the LGBT Caucus of the Likud, which supported the Ministry of Tourism’s plan, and called on the Ministry to reconsider its decision to suspend the budget.

“We were sorry to hear about the Tourism Ministry’s decision to suspend the budget intended to bring LGBT tourism to Israel,” wrote the Likud LGBT Caucus on it’s official Facebook page. “This is a direct result of unwise behavior by certain factors who claim to represent the entire community. ‘Pride in the Likud’ will continue to embrace our supporters and try to bring the groups closer to us through dialogue, and not through incitement and cultivation of ignorance.”

On Monday, The Aguda held a press conference at the Tel Aviv LGBT Center, with co-chair Chen Ariely and Imri Kalmann and members of the Tel Aviv City Council, Efrat Tolkovsky and Yaniv Weizman. Representatives from various educational and activist LGBT organizations attended the event as well, including IGY, Hoshen, Tehila and Jerusalem Open House.
At the press conference, the community leaders presented a document of requirements to the Israeli government, which demands a public statement of the government’s support in promoting equal rights for the LGBT community, and at the same time condemning all forms of LGBTphobic statements and other forms of violence against members of the LGBT community by elected officials. The document was signed by all the LGBT organizations in Israel.

“We call on the prime minister, the finance minister and the cabinet members: give us reasons to be proud of our government. This year we have received very few reasons to celebrate and many reasons to protest,” said the Aguda leaders, and added that “our demands weren’t born today. There is an ongoing struggle, and if needed, it will be in the center of the pride events and tourists from all over the world to see that Israel has a united community that fights for its rights.”

The Aguda leaders explained that they do not intend to call for canceling the budgets submitted by the Tourism Ministry. On the contrary, they said, “We welcome the Minister of Tourism’s decision on this unprecedented budget. He understood the power and importance of the community. But it can’t be that a campaign for one week in Tel Aviv is ten times larger than the budget of all community organizations nationwide for the whole year.”

Tel Aviv City Council members expressed their full support of the gay community and even cautious optimism. According to Tolkovsky, “representatives of the community in the municipality support the calls from the field. The parade is the first and foremost for the LGBT community, and has always served as a tool for equal rights. We hope that this year will become a turning point in relations between the state and the LGBT community”. Co-chair of The Aguda, Imri Kalmann, agreed that this is a turning point. “This year something distorted has happened,” he said. “This government uses the good condition of the community to present it to the world as one of its achievements. Three weeks ago we sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking for cooperation and have yet to receive an answer. The pride parade has always been a march to protest every Israeli government, no matter who headed it.”

A member of the Tel Aviv City Council, Yaniv Weizman, praised the conduct of the community and said that it’s been a while since he saw such organized and responsible conduct. Weitzman added: “The city knows how to spend money on the gay parades and tourism but also invests in the community. The accusing finger is not at the Ministry of Tourism but at the government of Israel as a whole. If the state wants to take on the role of the municipality and be a partner in the pride parades, no one would say no. On the contrary. If the state wants to be a partner and achieve something together it should be based on much more than a rainbow-colored painted plane. Let’s divide resources rationally. It seems illogical when organizations don’t have enough money to finish a month.”

As to what will happen with the parade and whether it will be canceled or a demonstration will be held instead, replied Chen Arieli: “We will make decisions in joint-forums together as we have done so far, and the message to come out will be agreed by all. Right now we are waiting for a response. If there is no response, we will consider our steps. It’s time to return to a parade that demands rights and recognition.”