For over 40 years, Israel’s LGBT* communities have waged some of the most effective fights for human and civil rights in Israel. Israeli activist Anit Nir examines key moments in this movement and looks at what’s next, including a run for MP as part of the Meretz party.
1975 – The Beginning
In 1975, “The Association for the Protection of Individual Rights” was founded in Israel. Today, this organization is known as Israel’s LGBT Taskforce, or simply as The Agudah (Hebrew: The Association). The words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ could not appear in the title because same-sex relationships were not legal in Israel at the time. The founders believed that once the anti-gay law was repealed, there would no longer be a need for the association to exist. However, even now, in 2018, the association is still active, and we have yet to achieve full equal rights for LGBT community members.
1988 – Coming Out
On March 1988, MP Shulamit Aloni, a pioneer in the fight for our community’s rights, submitted an amendment to the penal law. The amended version did not include the chapter relating to sodomy. The new version of the law was approved without anyone noticing and the next morning the papers announced: “Homosexual Consensual Relationships – Not a Felony.” You could say this was the real opening shot of the fight for LGBT rights in Israel.
1998 – Crisis & Pride
The Wigstock drag festival took place in Tel-Aviv on 1998. Protesting its premature ending (stopped by police under the guise of keeping the Shabbat and neighbors’ complaints) about 200 participants blocked the nearby main road. Some police officers wore rubber gloves, a fact which caused public scandal and became a symbol for the homophobic approach assumed by Israeli authorities.
The same year, Dana International, a transgender singer, won the Eurovision contest with her song “Diva.” The honor and pride that came with this victory were followed by a wave of public “coming outs”, which was later translated into the most massive and colorful pride parade ever seen.
2009 – Hate Crime
On August 2009, there was a shooting at the Tel Aviv branch of the Israeli LGBT Association at the “Bar-Noar”. Two teens were murdered and 11 were wounded. The murder was conceived as a hate crime and triggered a wide trend of empathy towards our community, including a solidarity visit by the Prime Minister of Israel and holding a large solidarity rally in Tel-Aviv. The killer has yet to be apprehended.
2016 – Just Allocation
On 2016, the Ministry of Tourism announced the allocation of 11 Million Shekels (approx. $3M USD) to a campaign designed to promote gay tourism in Israel. This statement angered the LGBT community’s organizations, since the total of all their budgets was less than 3 Million Shekels (approx. $800K USD) per year. Following that statement, the LGBT Taskforce opened a public front (going as far as threatening to cancel the Tel-Aviv pride parade) which resulted in a historical achievement – an agreement between the LGBT community and the Ministry of Finance that allocated an annual budget of 10 Million Shekels (approx. $2.6M USD) designated solely to the activities of the LGBT community.
2018 – Protest for Equality
In the summer of 2018 the LGBT community started a public campaign of nationwide protests, with a scope never before seen in Israel, including a nationwide strike in which many heterosis people took part as an act of solidarity. This protest campaign was named “Protest for Equality” and culminated in a huge rally that took place in Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv, with over 80 thousand people attending the rally.
It’s over but we’re not done…
The coming year is an election year in Israel. Demonstrations, rallies and protests were extremely important for our development as a community and for the creation of a wider public awareness. However, the path for us having equal rights in our country must go through the establishment of a more significant political force. In order to quit our dependency on the public servants’ political agenda, we must place ourselves where decisions over our lives are being made.
I am currently preparing to run for Parliament as part of the Meretz party. It is my goal to be the first female MP out of the closet. I am doing this for two reasons: one, as aforementioned, to make the next step in our struggle, and the second is to pave a path for the other women who will follow me. We are here, and we are everywhere. Those who were too scared to give us our basic rights 30 years ago, will find us in years to come seating in the Parliament and hopefully in the government as well.
* The use of LGBT here and throughout the article stems directly from the formal name of the Association (Israel’s LGBT Taskforce) and by no means intends to represent all of the complexity and the various groups within the LGBTQ+ community.
Anat Nir has been a social entrepreneur, publicist, and activist in Israel’s LGBTQ community for the past 15 years. She also has joined A Wider Bridge’s LGBTQ Missions as a speaker on Israeli LGBTQ politics and community.