Israeli Pride in Chicago

Israeli-American magazine Yedioth America covered A Wider Bridge’s event in Chicago with Chen Arieli from the Aguda that took place last week. Read the translation below. Please join us this evening (Friday) in LA, and next week in Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC, for our programs with the leaders of Israel Gay Youth.

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Chen Arieli, Chair of the Aguda, the Israeli LGBT Task Force, works for her living as the spokeswoman and consultant of MK Merav Michaeli. This week she arrived in Chicago for an eventful week that included a discussion at the LGBT Center in Chicago, a visit to the Israeli consulate in the city on Friday, meetings with LGBT organization leaders and members of the Jewish Federation and Temple Shalom. All this was coordinated by Nitza Gilad, Special Project Manager at the consulate, and Maya Carmeli, the consul for public diplomacy. On Saturday Arieli took part in the annual gala of the leading LGBT organization in Illinois, “Equality Illinois”, alongside many diplomats, congress members and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

Chen Arieli was born and raised in Haifa and currently resides in Tel Aviv with her partner. She identifies as lesbian, a feminist who aspires to peace and equality for all, including equal opportunities in the work place, equal salary conditions for men and women,and proper representation in the media, in the Knesset, and on government committees. She dedicates all of her free time to her work at the Aguda, which she does voluntarily. “I don’t have a personal life,” she admits, “but I have extreme satisfaction.”

Arieli is also one of the producers of the TLV International Film Festival. According to her, “It’s the biggest cultural event in the Middle East, in which films from all over the world are screened dealing with various questions with regard to the LGBT community.” Arieli also assisted in implementation of the Proud Literature Project, which launched shelves dedicated to LGBT books in libraries across Israel. She was invited to Chicago by Arthur Slepian, the founder and Executive Director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that connects LGBT people in North America and Israel and encourages dialogue and mutual learning.

The Aguda works to protect and promote the rights of the LGBT community in Israel, and is celebrating its 40th year this year. It was launched when having same-sex relations was against the law. A ground-breaking change took place on March 22, 1988, when Shulamit Aloni, a friend of the community, managed to eliminate the archaic prohibition against homosexuality.

Since then, Israel has made many changes in the legalization of homosexuality, mostly following court orders as a result of personal fights of citizens. Jonathan Danilowitz’ win in the famous law suit against El Al to provide equal spousal rights to his life partner paved the way to a recognition of same sex couples “known in public” who can inherit from one another.

According to Arieli, Israeli society and legislators acted with integrity towards the community. With the influence of former MK Ora Namir, equal opportunity at work was achieved forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. Yael Dayan influenced a correction of the law in the defense forces to place gay and lesbian soldiers in the same line of opportunities with all the other soldiers in the IDF. According to Arieli, the situation of Israeli LGBT soldiers was better than their fellow Americans that served in the army during the “don’t ask don’t tell” period.

“Our goal in the future is to make sure that our rights, which were accomplished through legal battles, will be listed in the book of laws of the State of Israel,” says Arieli. “Discrimination still exists in our rights as couples and as parents. The central statistics bureau, for example, doesn’t consider same sex families as families, and requests the Aguda to pay in order to record the number of same sex families that live in Israel.” According to her, the fight for legalizing civil unions in Israel will help not only the LGBT communities, but also Ethiopian and Russian groups that are not recognized by the Rabbinate, who will then be able to get married and divorced civilly, and not by the Rabbinate.

In June this year the conference “40 Years of Pride” takes place in Israel, sponsored jointly by The Aguda and A Wider Bridge.   This will be an international conference with leaders from all over the world, where the larger problems of the LGBT community will be discussed. The conference also marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Aguda in 1975, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in Israel, and will celebrate the progress that Israel’s LGBT community has made since that time.   “There’s no better place than Israel to host this kind of conference. This the ingathering of the exiles” , says Chen Arieli. “We hope that from this conference will come many mutual and global missions, because when we unite, the chances to succeed and change the world are much better.”