Israel's Gay Rights Record

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Israelis are justifiably proud of their country's record on gay rights, especially when that record is compared to that of its neighbors. This Israeli pride is too much for anti-Israel activists to bear, including one who on the Times op-ed page today accuses Israel of "pinkwashing" its real human rights record.

My in-box is filled with outraged responses from gays and lesbians (most, though not all, Jewish). Here is one response from a person who has been active in the gay rights movement who is an acquaintance of mine:

It's astonishing that someone would reduce the very visible presence of gay men and women in Israel, and their enfranchisement as members of the community in good standing as a mere public relations ploy.  And not least because Jews have played an instrumental role in the struggle to secure those rights, in the U.S. and in Israel.  It is part of Jewish culture's DNA to champion the cause of minorities, not a stratagem cooked up by some PR firm, as Israel's inveterate adversaries on the Left would have people believe.  History shows as much, and certainly with respect to homosexuality.

Moreover, for someone putatively on the Left, the writer is doing harm to her own professed interests.  Is she suggesting that a country shouldn't be proud of its record of championing a progressive cause, or cite it as evidence of the enlightened nature of its politics?  And is she really unwilling to affirm those achievements?  Does she begrudge Israel any praise for establishing a haven for those rights in a region not widely recognized for its hospitality to minorities?

She describes gay rights in Israel as an incomplete picture of civil rights in the country, which is fair enough, though as usual, it doesn't acknowledge the arduous efforts of Netanyahu's recent predecessors to grant the Palestinians almost all of what they purport to want.  But its not in the nature of politics to be perfect, especially with regard to minority rights.  It is always a struggle to build something inherently fragile in the face of a constant war of attrition against an often unyielding majority.  If the Left is not willing acknowledge the tangible differences between Israel's treatment of its gay citizens and the persecution gay and lesbians face in many of the neighboring countries, and to throw its support to Israel, then it is risking seeing those hard-won gains evaporate.

She should be careful what she wishes for.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/11/israels-gay-rights-record/249027/