October 2, 2019 at 7:04 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Israel LGBTI activists visit DC
A Wider Bridge Executive Director Tyler Gregory, right, and Ohad Hizki, chief executive officer of the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, speaks at a reception for A Wider Bridge at Sonoma Wine Bar in Southeast D.C. on Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Ronit Bezalel/A Wider Bridge)

Editor’s note: Washington Blade International News Editor traveled to Israel in 2016 as part of a trip that A Wider Bridge organized.

Nearly a dozen LGBTI activists from Israel traveled to D.C. last week.

A Wider Bridge — an organization that seeks to “create equality in Israel by expanding LGBTQ inclusion in Israel, and equality for Israel by cultivating constructive engagement with Israel” — organized the trip that took place from Sept. 19-26. The activists who traveled to the nation’s capital include:

Avichai Abarbanel, chair of Havruta, a group that promotes LGBTI acceptance among Orthodox Jewish people

Elisha Alexander, executive director of Ma’avarim, an Israeli transgender advocacy group

Miri Bailer, chair of Tehila, an organization for parents of LGBTI people

Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance Chair Eran Globus

Etty Hadad, a board member of Bat Kol, an organization for queer Jewish women

Ohad Hizki, chief executive officer of the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBTQ Task Force

Sagi Krispin, chair of the TLV LGBT Sports Club in Tel Aviv

Avihoo Mizan, chief executive officer of the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBTQ Center

Ofer Newman, chief executive officer of Israel Gay Youth

Chen Shmilo, chief executive officer of the Israel AIDS Task Force

Arine Szybowski, board member of Pride House of Be’er Sheva and the South

Tamar Yahel, chief executive officer of Hoshen, Israel’s LGBTQ Educational Organization

Tehila Chair Miri Bialer speaks at a reception for A Wider Bridge at Sonoma Wine Bar in Southeast D.C. on Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Ronit Bezalel/A Wider Bridge)

The delegation while in D.C. met with U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). They also met with Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Executive Director Shawn Gaylord and his colleague, Rina Patel.

Dana Beyer, co-founder of Gender Rights Maryland, and Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Congregation Bet Mishpachah are among those who attended a reception with the delegation that took place at Sonoma Wine Bar in Capitol Hill. The Stonewall Inn is among the places the activists visited in New York before they arrived in D.C.

“Our mission was a huge success,” Alan Schwartz, chair of A Wider Bridge’s board of directors, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday. “By the end of the 8-day mission, both the AWB and the Israeli LGBTQ delegations united in a spirit of openness and optimism.”

“We gained a mutual understanding that our diversity is the source of our strength,” added Schwartz. “And we made deep friendships.”

Uncertainty over Israel election overshadows trip

The trip began two days after Israel held its second general election in less than a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party appears to have lost its majority in the Israeli Knesset. President Reuven Rivlin last week asked Netanyahu to try and form a coalition government with Blue and White, a centrist party led by Benny Gantz who ran against him.

Netanyahu remains under investigation for corruption. A hearing that could potentially lead to his indictment began on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

“Netanyahu is not a man who gives up very easily,” Omer Nahmany, an LGBT activist from Tel Aviv who is a member of the leftist Democratic Union coalition, told the Washington Blade during an interview after the election. “Just like Trump, he’s using the office (of prime minister) as a sanctuary from prosecution.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears in ad for his re-election campaign with President Trump. Netanyahu’s Likud party appears to have lost its majority in the Knesset after the country’s elections on Sept. 17, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Omer Nahmany)

Nahmany told the Blade that Gantz talked about LGBTI rights during the campaign.

Netanyahu in April met with Globus and other LGBTI activists ahead of this year’s first general election.

Netanyahu in June appointed Amir Ohama, an openly gay member of the Knesset who is a member of Likud, as Israeli’s interim justice minister. Netanyahu in July criticized Education Minister Rafi Peretz over his public support of so-called conversion therapy, but the current prime minister continues to face criticism over the lack of progress on LGBTI-specific issues in the Knesset.

Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians also continue to spark sharp criticism.

“The most important thing we can say about the question, ‘What does the future hold for LGBTQ rights in Israel after this election?’ Is that the community and all who support our basic rights are tired of waiting and have had enough of promises,” Jerusalem Pride House for Pride and Tolerance Executive Director Ofer Erez told the Blade last month. “We want see change. We need to see it in order to believe in any leader who wants our support.”

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

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