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Israel election results could prove disastrous for LGBTQ community

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poised to return to office

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

Around five million Israelis voted in the elections that took place on Tuesday.

After five election campaigns in three and a half years, as of now it seems that the tie between the two (political) blocs has been broken. Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be prime minister and he will be the one to form the next government.

The results that are slowly coming in are extremely worrying for many Israelis, including members of the LGBTQ community.

The far right Hatzionut Hadatit (Religious Zionist Party), which includes Bezalel Smotrich, the organizer of the infamous Cattle Parade, a parade of cattle that marched at the same time as the Jerusalem Pride Parade, did well. Itamar Ben Gvir, who regularly protests against Pride parades and supports so-called conversion therapy, and Avi Maoz, whose anti-LGBTQ agenda is based on preserving family values, are also members of the party.

The Otzma Yehudit party and Hatzionut Hadatit include new, unfamiliar figures who may turn out to be much more extreme than Smotrich and Ben Gvir in regards to their attitudes towards LGBTQ people, women and other minorities.

Does the LGBTQ community have to worry about the election results?

Even before the formation of the government, it is already clear that LGBTQ representation in the Knesset will decrease. After a Knesset with five openly LGBTQ representatives, the next Knesset will have only three LGBTQ members and they will all be men: Amir Ohana from the Likud party and Yorai Lahav and Idan Roll from Yesh Atid.

Another concern for the LGBTQ community is the fear that Meretz, the first party that supported LGBTQ rights and has historically been the political home for the members of the LGBTQ community, will not earn enough seats to get its representatives into the Knesset, which would give the Netanyahu bloc a crushing victory.

The achievements achieved by the LGBTQ community in the previous Knesset may also be in danger. 

The LGBTQ community over the past year has managed to achieve a number of significant achievements that include the repeal of the ban on gay men from donating blood, the approval of surrogacy for male couples, reforms of the Committee for Gender Reassignment, the promotion of activities for LGBTQ Arabs and a budget of 90 million NIS ($24,460,991) for local authorities all over the country to carrying out activities for the benefit of the LGBTQ community.

Due to the complexity of the previous government that was made up of different parties from all ends of the political spectrum — from Naftali Bennett on the right to Meretz and Ra’am on the left — all of these achievements did not come through legislation, but through regulations that various ministers implemented. This fact may be to the community’s detriment, because new government ministers could just as easily reverse them.

The far-right’s goal of reforming the justice system could also hurt LGBTQ achievements, some of which resulted from Supreme Court decisions. The legislation of the Override Clause will give the Knesset the authority to re-enact a law that the High Court has invalidated, thereby overruling Supreme Court decisions.

Poll indicates most LGBTQ Israelis fear right-wing government

In a study the Israeli Institute for Gender and LGBTQ Research at the Aguda conducted before the election, 87 percent of LGBTQ Israelis said that they fear the next Knesset will violate their rights. This fear is not only from the lack of promotion of pro-LGBTQ legislation, but also from the promotion of regulations and laws that will actively harm LGBTQ organizations. 

If the right-wing government fulfills its promises, it would remove the LGBTQ education organization Hoshen from schools, end financial support for Israel Gay Youth, ban hormone treatments for transgender people and provide financial support for organizations that offer conversion therapy. And as we have learned during all the years of the LGBTQ struggle, when public figures incite against members of the community, this affects the public and the verbal cancellation turns into discrimination of LGBTQ people in businesses, bullying in schools against LGBTQ students and physical assaults in the street.

How LGBTQphobic will the next government be?

The results of the elections in Israel are the will of the Israeli voter. The people of Israel gave a significant power to parties that seek to harm the rights of the LGBTQ community, but these parties were not necessarily elected due to being anti-LGBTQ. 

The fact that Ben Gvir and Smotrich and their parties received significant support is not necessarily about LGBTQ issues, but it is mainly based on the state of internal security in Israel. Violence and crime in large areas of the country that have become no man’s land, the internal terrorism that culminated in riots in Arab Jewish cities in May 2021, and the disappointment of many from the right-wing parties that entered the last government together with an Arab party caused many voters, some of them LGBTQ, to vote for extreme right-wing parties.

Another parameter that helped Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the election is the timing. 

They entered an election system in which there is no other right-wing party except Likud. All the right-wing leaders (Avigdor Lieberman, Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar) moved towards the center-left and new, more extreme right-wing leaders who previously failed to enter the Knesset filled the vacuum.

The people of Israel are patiently waiting to see what the results will be and how the map of the blocks will look. We still won’t know which government will be formed, even after the final results are announced. Netanyahu will receive the mandate from the president and will begin the task of forming the government, which history has already taught us is impossible to predict how it will end. Israeli politics is unpredictable and full of surprises, and any possibility we didn’t think about can become a reality.

It is likely that in the first phase Netanyahu will choose to form a narrow right-wing government with his natural ultra-orthodox and Religious Zionist partners. In this case, Netanyahu will depend on extremist Zionist elements, such as Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and even Maoz, each of whom has the power to topple the government.  

The question is whether those parties will use their power to harm LGBTQ achievements and even enact anti-LGBTQ laws, and if so, how will the more liberal Likud members, LGBTQ members and their supporters, will react to these proposals, and whether both parties will be willing to endanger the right-wing government on this subject?

Later, difficulties at home, including excessive demands of the extreme parties, or international pressure from the outside, may cause Netanyahu to strive to expand the government, and perhaps even to replace the extreme elements with more moderate centrist elements such as Benny Gantz. Such a government would be less anti-LGBTQ, but even here the chance of promoting LGBTQ issues is almost non existent, and it is likely that there will be no progress with what will remain. No anti-LGBTQ laws will be promoted either.

Two points to consider

The first one is how the new Knesset members who proudly declared themselves to be LGBTQphobic will sit in a coalition and cooperated with Ohana, a gay MP and a father for two children who he had via surrogate. 

The second one is how will Netanyahu and the secular Likud members deal with the extreme demands of the religious parties, which range from the closing of places of entertainment on Shabbat, the termination of women’s service in the IDF, and the application of Torah laws to the judicial system.

“Just as the outgoing government protected the rights of all citizens of the country, the incoming government is also expected to do the same.,” outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the LGBTQ community who will not enter the next Knesset, said. “If Smotrich or Ben Gvir think they will harm women’s rights, LGBTQ or Arabs, a large and strong front will stand in front of them and will prevent this from them.”

Will the opposition to this new government will be strong and determine enough to stop these scenarios from happening? 

Only time will tell. 

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Middle East

New Israeli government takes office

Activists’ concerns overshadow first gay Knesset speaker

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government was sworn in on Thursday.

After a long and exhausting coalition negotiation in which the far-right parties blackmailed Netanyahu, they managed to insert into the coalition agreements a number of clauses that pose a clear danger to the continued promotion of the rights of the LGBTQ community in Israel, and even to the institutionalization of discrimination and its legalization.

The new government’s first goal in Israel is to weaken the judicial system and enact the superseding clause that will allow the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a majority of 61 Knesset members.

Another law included in the coalition agreements is the Discrimination Law, according to which “in order to correct the distortion in the status quo that was recently made, the Law Prohibiting Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry to Entertainment Places and Public Places will be amended, so that the possibility of holding cultural events or studies for religious and ultra-Orthodox people, while taking into account their religious beliefs and needs, will be amended — including gender segregation. Under these conditions, segregation will not be considered prohibited discrimination.”

Even before the swearing in of the government, the designated minister Orit Struck explained that according to the new law, a doctor could refuse to give his patients treatments that contradict his religious beliefs.

MK Simcha Rotman explained that businesses could refuse to commit “religious offenses” in their area, and when asked if hotels could refuse to host a gay couple, he replied: Yes.

The new list of ministers includes 36 ministers, many of whom hold anti-LGBT opinions. But the two appointments appear to be particularly problematic for the LGBTQ community. 

The first is the appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir as National Security Minister, whose approval includes changes to the Police Order Law, also known as the “Ben Gvir law” in the framework of which additional powers were transferred to the Internal Security Minister and the labeling of police policy, which includes, among other things, the definition of priorities, work plans and powers in matters of the budget. This structural change in the police command gives Gvir the authority and the possibility to act harshly against future protests and even prevent them.

The second appointment is that of Amichai Shikli as Social Equality Minister. 

Shikli, an MK from the Likud party, is among those responsible for the overthrow of the previous government of Naftali Bennett, spoke out against the LGBTQ community many times, and is currently in charge of the Social Equality Ministry under which the LGBTQ activity in the local authorities was budgeted, which is now in danger.

Amid all the homophobia, the appointment of MK Amir Ohana of the Likud who was elected Knesset speaker, and became the first LGBT MK to hold this position, which is considered one of the five symbols of rule, stands out.

In his ceremonial speech in the Knesset, Ohana referred to the new coalition member’s statements of the members of the new coalition:

“This Knesset is the home of all the citizens of Israel. It is the true fortress of human rights and individual freedom,” he said. “Along with things we agree on, we hear very controversial things here. Really outrageous. But this is the place to discuss the most painful and sensitive issues and make decisions. This — and no other.”

During Ohana’s first speech as Knesset speaker, there was embarrassment when the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties bowed their heads and covered their faces when Ohana acknowledged his spouse and his children who were sitting in the hall.

“Alon is with me … [he is] my anchor, the wise and good, and our beloved children Ella and David,” said Ohana. “This Knesset, led by this speaker, will not harm them or any child or family — P-E-R-I-O-D. And if there is a boy or girl watching me here today, know that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you can get anywhere you want.”

The LGBTQ community marked the government’s inauguration with demonstrations and protests, along with dozens of civil society organizations.

Hundreds of “Love Will Win” signs in the colors of Pride were hung in dozens of local authorities across the country in the morning by the Aguda’s “local Pride” activists. Members of the community from north to south came out in the middle of the night and hung the signs in their homes in Ariel, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Gedera, Givat Shmuel, Petah Tikva, Haifa, Netanya, Pardes Hana Karkur, Jordan Valley, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Rehovot and Or Yehuda.

At 10:30 a.m. in front of the Knesset, the Pride flags protest joined dozens of civil society organizations from all ends of the political spectrum and the hundreds of demonstrators who demonstrated in front of the Knesset. The demonstrators waved Pride flags and signs against the discrimination laws included in the coalition agreements.

In the evening, LGBTQ organizations held a demonstration in front of the Government Tower in Tel Aviv. 

Around 3,000 demonstrators gathered in square and listened to the protest speeches of the representatives of the LGBTQ organizations. Later in the evening they went down to the road and blocked Ayalon Hhighway, with the police accompanying them and allowing them to carry out the blockades.

“We have proven to the whole country that we know and know how to fight for our lives when necessary,” said Hila Peer, chairwoman of the Aguda. “And we are not alone. We are with the vast majority of Israeli citizens, most of the economy, most of the local authorities. With us are the families, the parents, the brothers and friends who stand by us. Don’t try us because our righteous and valuable struggle to be equal citizens only goes forward. It will not go back on our watch.”

The business community also joined the protest against the new government’s plans to harm minorities and discriminated populations. During the day, more and more companies and commercial entities responded to the call initiated by LGBTech and joined almost 300 companies that made public statements that they will not allow discrimination and will refuse to provide services to discriminatory entities.

“We are thankful and grateful to the companies and employers who rallied in recent days and called loudly for the right to equality, acceptance and security.” LGBTech CEO Sivan Kaniel. “The Israeli economy is committed and will continue to be committed to all its workers and employees, and we call on female managers and other managers to call out loudly against the racist voices, the waterfalls that are heard today. Today these voices are directed towards the LGBTQ community, tomorrow they are other communities. This is a moral and ethical test hour for all of us, Israelis, regarding the character of the country in which we live. We must raise our voices today, for the right of all of us to earn a living, and to live safely and peacefully.”

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Middle East

Far-right Israeli politician vows to cancel Jerusalem Pride

Avi Maoz rebuked by Benjamin Netanyahu

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Avi Maoz (Screen capture via i24NEWS English YouTube)

A far-right Israeli politician on Wednesday said the country’s new government should not allow the annual Jerusalem Pride parade to take place.

Walla News Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid noted Avi Maoz, a member of the Israeli Knesset who is a member of the far-right Noam party, told the Olam Katan newspaper the incoming government needs “to cancel the Jerusalem Pride parade.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Maoz. “I am as serious as I can be. It didn’t come up in the coalition agreement, but I am not hiding, I want it cancelled.”

President Isaac Herzog has asked Netanyahu to form a government after his Likud Party won the election that took place on Nov. 1. Maoz’s party is among those that could form a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister.

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, previously reported Maoz promotes an anti-LGBTQ agenda based on the preservation of family values.

Ravid noted Netanyahu has said the Jerusalem Pride parade “will continue.”

“My government will not harm the rights of the LGBT community or any of Israel’s citizens,” said Netanyahu. 

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Middle East

World Cup ambassador describes homosexuality as ‘damage in the mind’

Khalid Salman’s interview with German reporter abruptly ended

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Khalid Salman (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube)

World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman on Monday described homosexuality as “damage in the mind.”

Salman, a former Qatari soccer player, made the comment during an interview with a reporter from ZDF, a German television station, in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The former Qatari soccer player in response to the reporter’s question about the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country described homosexuality as “haram” or “forbidden” under Sharia law. A member of the World Cup organizing committee abruptly stopped the interview after Salman made his comments. 

https://youtu.be/Ey2qiEdf8ik

The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to begin in Doha on Nov. 20.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month in a report noted Qatari officials between 2019 and September 2022 “arbitrary arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention.” 

The report documents six cases “of severe and repeated beatings” and five cases of “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period.

“Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones,” said Human Rights Watch. “As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored ‘behavioral support center.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha. Ten captains of European soccer teams that will compete in the World Cup have said they will wear “one love” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ and intersex people.

“They have to accept our rules here,” Salman told ZDF.

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