How Both the Left and the Right Get Israel’s Gay Rights Struggle Wrong

Cantor and Talmud teacher Raphael Magarik from Berkeley attended Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade last week, and came back thinking that neither the right nor the left can make room for ongoing, contentious social-justice struggles within Israel.

Jerusalem’s gay pride parade, in which I marched on Thursday, was full of contradictions. On the one hand, Israeli politicians competed to show their support for the march. Likud MK Gilad Erdan came with his posse of security guards, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the march by video, and party members waved Yesh Atid banners in the march’s staging area. On the other hand, Jerusalem’s secular mayor, Nir Barkat, demurred because he did not “want to be part of something that offends the ultra-Orthodox community and the religious Zionist community.”

The homophobes who typically protest Jerusalem Pride were barely visible this year. Still, they and their leaders (like Religious-Zionist Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who called LGBT people “perverts”) were the addressees of angry placards ubiquitous throughout the march. Two young gay men married underneath a wedding canopy, and they danced the whole route’s length. But only moments after they popped a champagne bottle’s cork to jubilant shouting, we reached the memorial for Shira Banki, the teenager murdered by a Haredi man at last year’s march, and we paused in somber silence.

These contradictions are important because they refute the two dominant media stories that internationals tell about LGBT life in Israel.

For right-wingers like Michael Oren, who explained his views in his keynote address to the 2012 Equality Forum in Philadelphia, Israel is a gay utopia, morally superior to its oppressive Middle Eastern neighbors and thus entitled to liberal support. For writers on the left like Sarah Schulman, Israel trumpets its social liberalism to distract from its misdeeds against Palestinians.

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