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Israeli police try to investigate activist, protest movement leader

Hila Peer is chair of the Aguda

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Aguda Chair Hila Peer. (Photo courtesy of Hila Peer)

A prominent Israeli LGBTQ and intersex rights activist says authorities tried to launch an investigation against her because she is one of the leaders of the protest movement against the government’s proposed judicial reforms.

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told the Washington Blade the police called her on Sunday morning about “an emergency investigation for my involvement and suspicion of disturbing the peace.”

“I turned to my organization and the protest organizations to get out the word that they were calling me in,” said Peer, who said she was told to report to a police station at 1:30 p.m.

“A few hours after that, with immense public pressure and public attention and articles that came out about it, they called me 10 minutes before the investigation was supposed to take place … they called me at 20 past one to say you know what, never mind, you don’t need to show up.”

Peer told the Blade that press reports a few hours later “got information from a leak from inside the police that they were trying to calling me in” to interrogate her about “underground” protests that took place in Tel Aviv on Fridays in August. 

“It’s a very lame excuse,” said Peer. “Throughout the month of August schools are on break and I was home every Friday with my babies, meaning I was not even present in any of those protests.”

The Aguda is among the myriad groups that have participated in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government’s efforts to reform the Israeli judicial system.

Netanyahu in March postponed them after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. The Knesset in July approved a bill that would, among other things, increase the government’s control over judicial appointments and diminish the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws.

Peer said the government over the last two months has tried “to threaten the heads of the protests, randomly calling people in for no apparent reason for investigations.”

“What happened in this specific case is that their attempt backfired and they were really caught by just bothering the public, just randomly calling people in,” said Peer. “It’s basically a practice that’s reserved for dark regimes and that’s what we’re dealing with here now, so now it feels like we save not only ourselves, but the police themselves from this government. It’s simply insane.”

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, a U.S.-based organization that seeks to build “a movement of LGBTQ people and allies with a strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ communities.” He defended Peer in a statement he sent to the Blade on Thursday.

“The right to protest is a cherished democratic value,” said Felson. “Our friend Hila Peer, as the chair of the largest LGBTQ civil rights group in Israel, has been on the front lines. We deeply appreciate her courage and tenacity — and we know she will not be intimidated into silence. What happened to Hila is unacceptable. We appreciate that the matter was ‘dropped.’ It should never have been initiated in the first place. We join her and the Israeli LGBTQ community in saying ‘yes’ to democracy and ‘no’ to fear.”

The Blade has reached out to the Israel Police for comment.

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Middle East

A provocative ad, a divided nation: The battle over LGBTQ rights in Lebanon

PSA has sparked hope, controversy in Arab world

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An MTV Lebanon ad that features a gay couple holding hands calls for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country. (Screenshot courtesy of MTV Lebanon's X page)

A new PSA in Lebanon advocating for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country is stirring up controversy in the Arab world. 

The ad first appeared on MTV Lebanon, a network owned by Lebanese politician and businessman Michel Gabriel El Murr, and was later shared on the network’s social media page. The campaign pushes for the repeal of Article 534 in the Lebanese Penal Code, a law first adopted in 1943 that is used to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations with up to one year of imprisonment. 

In the clip, two men are seen standing side-by-side in an elevator when a third man joins them and pulls a gun from his jacket. The tension is palpable until he leaves. When he does, the first two men grasp each other’s hands when words flash across the screen: “There’s crime and there’s love.”

Screams and gunshots are heard from a distance as the scene fades. 

“Based on the words of Pope Francis, ‘Homosexuality is not a crime,’” the network’s X (formerly known as Twitter) caption says, “Yes to the abolition of Article 534 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality.” 

Since premiering on Sept. 2, the powerful ad has generated an array of attacks from anti-gay figures, including from Culture Minister Mohammad Mouratda, who lambasted the network and accused it of incitement and division. He even went so far as to suggest that airing the ad itself was a criminal act. 

Meanwhile, a collective called the Muyul Project premiered a PSA of their own that spoofed the original ad with an alternate ending in which a little girl is seen crying and holding her family as opposing words appear on the screen: “There is a crime that kills a human being, and there is a crime that kills society. Yes to maintaining Article 534 and protecting societal and family values.” 

Despite the outcry, LGBTQ Arabs and allies insist the campaign is sparking much-needed dialogue about the law — which they say is long overdue.  

“This campaign does a lot to start conversations and challenge the status quo, especially within the context of Lebanese society,” Joe Kawly, the first openly gay Arab news anchor, told the Washington Blade. “While the backlash was predictable, the visibility and support that this campaign provides to the LGBTQ+ community are invaluable.”

Bertho Makso, the founder and executive director of Proud Lebanon, an LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, told the Blade the ad reinforces the work he and his team have been doing “since 2018” to engage various political parties and draft bills that would decriminalize homosexuality.

Nine MPs in July co-sponsored legislation that would have decriminalized homosexuality, but backlash was swift. One MP withdrew their name altogether because of harassment and threats.

While the ad campaign is a bold move, it is not exactly an isolated incident. The country was once considered an oasis of relative tolerance for LGBTQ and intersex rights in the Arab World, but has undergone an anti-LGBTQ tidal wave in recent years.

Members of the far-right Christian group Soldiers of God on Aug. 23 brutally attacked Madame Om, a popular gay-friendly bar in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood, during a drag show. Reports indicate the police looked on as patrons were assaulted. This attack comes as Education Minister Abbas Al Halabi opened an investigation into rumors of pro-LGBTQ messaging in materials used in schools. And Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in July declared consensual same-sex sexual relations should be punishable by death. 

To further complicate matters, Article 534 doesn’t explicitly address homosexuality. Rather, it only points to sexual acts that are “contrary to the order of nature.” 

Even though several courts have tried to affirm consensual same-sex acts don’t qualify as being “against nature,” it hasn’t stopped multiple arrests continuing to persist, according to a recent Proud Lebanon report. Mouratda and MP Ashraf Rifi have introduced more stringent bills. 

Mourtada’s measure proposes up to three years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for promoting or engaging in “deviant sexual relations” and Rifi’s bill sought the explicit criminalization of homosexuality with heightened penalties.

As Lebanon continues its attacks against LGBTQ and intersex people, some suggest it’s all a ploy to distract from the country’s crumbling economy. Even more notably: Lebanon has lacked a president since October 2022, a clear reflection of its turbulent political landscape. 

Helem, the first LGBTQ and intersex organization in the Arab world established in 2001, said in a recent statement “the decision to suddenly and systematically target LGBTQ individuals is a very old tactic used by multiple failing autocratic regimes around the world.” 

As Kawly explains, MTV Lebanon’s campaign may herald a turning point for the nation, asserting LGBTQ and intersex people’s inherent role in Lebanon’s value as a whole. 

“Social change is often slow and painful, but the very fact that we’re seeing more visibility and conversation on LGBTQ+ issues signal a potential shift,” he said. “With every campaign, every story told, every law repealed, we’re inching closer to a more inclusive and accepting society.” 

“When it comes to Lebanon, for sure there is a bright future because we are working for it,” added Makso. “We believe in it, and we are fighting for it.”

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Middle East

Israeli police acknowledge attempted investigation of activist was ‘error’

Hila Peer is leader in protest movement against judicial reforms

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Aguda Chair Hila Peer (Photo courtesy of Hila Peer)

An Israel Police spokesperson has acknowledged an attempted investigation against a prominent LGBTQ and intersex rights activist that authorities tried to launch earlier this month was an “error.”

Hila Peer, chair of the Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told the Washington Blade last week the police called her on Sept. 3 about “an emergency investigation for my involvement and suspicion of disturbing the peace.”

Peer said she was told to report to a police station at 1:30 p.m. 

“A few hours after that, with immense public pressure and public attention and articles that came out about it, they called me 10 minutes before the investigation was supposed to take place … they called me at 20 past one to say you know what, never mind, you don’t need to show up,” she said.

Peer told the Blade that press reports a few hours later “got information from a leak from inside the police that they were trying to calling me in” to interrogate her about “underground” protests that took place in Tel Aviv on Fridays in August. 

“It’s a very lame excuse,” Peer told the Blade. “Throughout the month of August schools are on break and I was home every Friday with my babies, meaning I was not even present in any of those protests.”

The Israel Police spokesperson in an emailed statement to the Blade said “the initial summons for questioning of this individual (Peer) was issued due to an error.”

“As soon as this error was detected, the police promptly took corrective action,” said the spokesperson. “As the summons had been scheduled erroneously, consequently, the individual in question was informed that the appointment was canceled.”

The Aguda is among the myriad groups that have participated in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government’s efforts to reform the Israeli judicial system.

Netanyahu in March postponed them after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. The Knesset in July approved a bill that would, among other things, increase the government’s control over judicial appointments and diminish the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws.

Peer told the Blade the government over the last two months has tried “to threaten the heads of the protests, randomly calling people in for no apparent reason for investigations.”

“What happened in this specific case is that their attempt backfired and they were really caught by just bothering the public, just randomly calling people in,” she said. “It’s basically a practice that’s reserved for dark regimes and that’s what we’re dealing with here now, so now it feels like we save not only ourselves, but the police themselves from this government. It’s simply insane.”

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Middle East

LGBTQ-friendly bar attacked in Lebanese capital

Attacks against country’s LGBTQ and intersex community are increasing

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From left: An LGBTQ rights activist holds a Pride Flag at a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, a Pride flag flying at a home overlooking the Mediterranean. Photos courtesy of Beirut Pride/Los Angeles Blade photo montage)

Members of a Christian militant group Jnoud El-Rab, the so-called Soldiers of God, attacked patrons outside of a popular LGBTQ-friendly club and bar in the Lebanese capital of Beirut’s restaurant and entertainment neighborhood, Mar Mikhael, on Aug. 23.

A drag event was being held at the Om Bar Room, when the men from the anti-LGBTQ Jnoud El-Rab attacked. Multiple videos showed the men physically attacking patrons while yelling that LGBTQ people are “satanic” and have no place in Lebanon.

In the videos the men carrying out the attack can be heard shouting “We warned you, this is only the beginning,” and, “We will not allow the promotion of homosexuality in the land of God.”

he attack lasted more than an hour, with several people injured by militia members, according to Tarek Zeidan, the executive director of Helem, a Lebanese LGBTQ rights group.

“We had to assess whether it was safe to host the event, but we decided to go ahead because drag is a form of entertainment that is mainstream in Lebanon and had not yet been targeted,” one of the event organizers said.

Rasha Younes, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program reported:

“We stopped the show and had to hide behind the bar, lying down on the floor, breathless,” one of the performers told me. “The police stood on the side, watching, as the men were beating people.”

“There were a dozen men on motorcycles who attacked us. At least two of them had guns,” another performer said.

William Christoureporting for The New Arab, noted that the first appearance of the Soldiers of God, or Junoud al-Rub, in Arabic, was as a neighborhood watch group in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood more than a year ago.

The group claimed to conduct patrols to ensure security in the area, especially in the wake of Lebanon’s 2019 economic meltdown.

The patrols were reminiscent of the practice of militias self-organizing during Lebanon’s civil war, where the country’s sectarian divisions were enforced by armed groups.

Soldiers of God quickly began employing violence against those who it said threatened Lebanese traditional values.

In June 2022, the group defaced a billboard in Achrafieh, which was decorated with flowers and an LGBTQ rainbow flag. Members then accused the LGBTQ community of promoting “satanism” and of kidnapping children.

The Christian extremist group numbers only around 150, but is infamous for its propensity for violence, the New Arab reported.

The owner of the bar told Amnesty International that when the Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrived at the scene, they prevented the aggressors from entering the bar and aided some guests in their attempts to leave the bar, but they did not stop the attack or arrest any of the assailants. 

In recent weeks, Lebanon’s political and religious leaders have intensified their campaign against the LGBTQ community, with the head of a prominent political party calling for LGBTQ people to be killed, the culture minister attempting to ban the movie “Barbie” on grounds that it ‘contradicted morals and values’ and requesting that the media use the term “sexual perversion” to describe homosexuality, and the education minister banning a board game in schools because it depicted a rainbow. 

“Last night’s attack on Madame Om, a bar considered to be a safe space for the LGBTI community, marked an alarming escalation in the attacks against LGBTI people that have followed troubling remarks by high-level politicians and religious figures. The authorities must ensure that the attackers are held accountable and demonstrate that such acts have no place in a country invested in upholding human rights,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

“Lebanon’s constitution guarantees equality, free expression, and free assembly for everyone — and these rights must be respected. What happened at Madame Om last night offered an ominous sign of how the situation of the LGBTI people is deteriorating in the country,” Majzoub said. 

“The Lebanese authorities must immediately stop creating an environment conducive for discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community to be perpetuated. Crucially, the government should ensure that everyone is protected from violence, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Majzoub added.

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