Tens of thousands of Israelis packed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday night to protest the exclusion of gay couples from a recently passed surrogacy law that has drawn accusations of LGBT discrimination in the Jewish state.
A protest for LGBT rights at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on July 22, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Gay rights advocates and their supporters observed an unprecedented one-day strike earlier on Sunday, and large demonstrations were held in major cites across Israel, where hundreds were seen waving rainbow flags, blocking traffic, and shouting “shame.”
Many focused their anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week pledged to pass legislation supporting surrogacy for gay fathers, but then voted against it, reportedly under pressure from ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
Police said some 100,000 people attended the rally in Rabin Square, according to reports in Hebrew-language media. Several streets in downtown Tel Aviv near the rally were closed to traffic, while dozens of police officers were deployed to secure the area.
Addressing the crowd was actress and LGBT activist Orna Banai, who accused Israel of hypocrisy for claiming to be a gay-friendly country.
“Too many times we’ve heard that we have we actually have it really good here, and there’s no discrimination. Because they’re not stoning us, they want us to sit down and be quiet,” she said.
“But are you willing to sit down and be quiet?” she asked the crowd, who responded with a resounding “No.”
Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay was seen in the crowd, and told Channel 10 that he came to the rally to show support for Israelis who are subject to “pain and humiliation every single day as they fight for equal rights.”
Another protester, Shahar Abramovitz, told The Times of Israel that having his own children via surrogacy compelled him to attend the protest.
“I’m here because we had our children via surrogacy abroad,” he said. “Our twins are now 3 and a half, and we want to help others not to have to pay half a million shekels and to travel just to have children. There should be equality for all.”
“We know there is a time to run, and a time to stand and fight. And now is the time to fight,” Abramovitz added.
The gloves are off
The protests have generated widespread support and hundreds of Israeli companies said they would allow their employees to attend the various demonstrations on Sunday without penalty.
“It is a symbolic measure, but one that shows real support,” Julien Bahloul, spokesman for the Association of Gay Fathers in Israel, told AFP earlier on Sunday.
Some companies said they would contribute up to around $15,000 to help gay couples forced to seek surrogacy abroad.
Bahloul said gay couples wanting to have children must find a surrogate mother abroad and the costs can rise to more than $100,000. Costs would be cut in half if it were allowed in Israel, he said.
Chen Arieli , Chair of the Aguda National LGBTQ Task Force told Channel 10 news that the LGBT community in Israel was pleased to see such a strong turnout at Rabin Square.
“When we announced the strike, we did not expect this much support from the Israeli public,” she said. “We feel that today is a historic day,” she said. “Today everyone understands that an attack on the LGBTQ community is an attack on Israel’s itself.”
“The LGBTQ community has had a tough week, and we have decided that it’s time for the gloves to come off,” Arieli added.
Amid mounting criticism, Netanyahu later denied that he changed his mind his position on surrogate parenthood for same-sex couples, saying he voted against the measure to ensure the bill would pass. He vowed to support a separate bill legalizing surrogacy for gay couples at a later Knesset session.