September 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Israeli LGBTI activists visit D.C. synagogue

Eyal Migdalovich, founder of the LGBTQ Refugee Program in Israel, speaks to members of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in D.C. on Aug. 24, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two activists from Israel spoke to members of an LGBTI synagogue in D.C. on Aug. 24.

Congregation Bet Mishpachah hosted Ohad Hizki, chief executive officer of the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, and Eyal Migdalovich, founder of the LGBTQ Refugee Program.

They were in D.C. with A Wider Bridge, a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “support for Israel and its LGBTQ community.” Hizki and Migdalovich also spoke with LGBTI rights advocates and supporters of A Wider Bridge in New York and Florida while they were in the U.S.

Migdalovich founded the LGBTQ Refugee Program three years ago after he wrote an article about LGBTI asylum seekers in Tel Aviv.

The LGBTQ Refugee Program has provided food, medicine and other basic needs to more than 40 asylum seekers. The organization also works with the Aguda, the U.N. Refugee Agency and other organizations that advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers.

“I see them as my brothers and sisters that are somehow falling through the cracks,” said Migdalovich. “They need our help because the situation is very harsh.”

Migdalovich said refugees from Eritrea and Sudan and Palestinians from the West Bank account for the majority of the people with whom the LGBTQ Refugee Program works. He added the LGBTQ Refugee Program has also worked with a transgender woman from Jamaica, a gay man from Iran and other “people from all over the world who somehow arrived in Israel.”

Migdalovich said the Israeli government’s policies towards refugees and asylum seekers — which include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan with UNHCR to deport more than 30,000 African refugees and asylum seekers that he withdrew earlier this year — are among the barriers he and the LGBTQ Refugee Program face. Migdalovich added many of the communities in which LGBTI asylum seekers are living are “very conservative.”

“They’re not reaching out to us and we’re not reaching out to them because we have a real lack of manpower,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best with the people who are reaching out to us.”

‘We had a really busy summer’

Migdalovich and Hizki traveled to the U.S. against the backdrop of President Trump’s policies towards immigrants, LGBTI people and other groups that continue to spark outrage. The Israeli government’s policies towards the Palestinians also remain highly controversial.

The Israeli Knesset in July approved a controversial bill that prevents gay couples and single men from using surrogates.

The Aguda and other advocacy groups organized a national strike against the measure in which tens of thousands of people took part. Upwards of 100,000 people attended a protest against the surrogacy bill that took place in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on July 22.

“We had a really busy summer,” Hizki told members of Congregation Bet Mishpachah. “We had a really big discussion in Israel around equality.”

Hizki told the Washington Blade after he and Migdalovich spoke the Aguda’s support of the LGBTQ Refugee Program is another way the organization can support LGBTI rights in Israel.

“We are putting a lot of effort into this project,” said Hizki.

Ohad Hizki, chief executive officer of the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, speaks to members of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in D.C. on Aug. 24, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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