How to deal with Israel’s new LGBTQ-phobic leaders | Ethan Felson


Published first at the Jerusalem Post 

The new Israeli government will likely have several politicians in leadership positions who will seek to turn back the clock on progress in building equality for all Israelis.

These are hard times for many of us who love Israel from the diaspora. We read news of more terror attacks against Israelis and we weep. And we read news of the elevation of politicians who are stridently LGBTQ-phobic, misogynist and racist, and we want to scream. We search for ways to hold our Israeli friends and family close. We know this is not a time for business as usual.

This year, we will come together to celebrate 75 years since the modern state of Israel was born. We take pride that Israel was founded as a Jewish and democratic state for all its inhabitants, regardless of religion, race or sex and guaranteeing freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. These values have stood at the center of the Israel-Diaspora relationship.

But we cannot stay silent as extreme voices seek to erase many of those founding values that have made us so proud. The new Israeli government will likely have several politicians in leadership positions who will seek to turn back the clock on progress in building equality for all Israelis.

They reject Jews who don’t pray the way they do. They seek to undermine women’s equality in the public and religious realms. And they desire nothing less than to drive Israel’s vibrant, diverse LGBTQ communities back into the darkness of the closet.

Israel’s new government may want to turn back the clock on progress

Historically, as supporters of Israel, we have taken great pride in our close connections with Israeli elected leaders. We have welcomed them in our offices, met with them in Israel, and lauded their work in building and securing Israel and the Jewish future.

But the pro-Israel community has no obligation to meet with individuals who hold and promote extreme views. Where such meetings do take place, these encounters should be used to raise our profound concerns about full religious pluralism and equality for all, including the LGBTQ community.

We share the acute pain and worry that we have been hearing from our Israeli LGBTQ partners and friends. Will they stand alone as efforts are made to cancel LGBTQ Pride or to demonize it as a beast march, reducing LGBTQ individuals to subhuman status?

WILL WE sit silently as life-destroying conversion therapy is promoted rather than banned? Will we allow our trans siblings to be slandered and denied their rights and humanity? And will we stand idly by while all this hatred is normalized, knowing full well that hatred expressed in one place too often manifests as violence in another?

This challenge does not fall only to those who speak from a social justice perspective, each of us who advocates for Israel in the Diaspora has a role to play. By raising our concerns firmly and fully, we will reinforce our commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship – one that has a deep base of support across all sectors of the Diaspora.

We do this keenly aware of the unfinished business we face with rising hate and violence against the Jewish and LBGTQ communities at home and around the world. Our stance is the same when we confront hatred anywhere around the globe and we cannot abide it when it erupts in the homeland of the Jewish people.

Moreover, what standing do we have to speak out against antisemitism if any of us turn a blind eye to anti-LGBTQ hatred? Indeed, throughout much of the world, we sit in the same crosshairs. Many of the groups and people who mean harm to one group also mean harm to the other.

More importantly, the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are natural allies in fighting bigotry. We need each other and we cannot allow anyone to drive a wedge between us.

It is on us to speak up for our shared values: a baseline of social civility, opposition to extremism, protection of gender equality, promotion of anti-racism and equal treatment of all LGBTQ people as fellow human beings created in the divine image.

We love Israel today just as much as we did yesterday. But it can’t be business as usual when we interact with certain leaders. We must stay true to our values and hold them to account.