Hundreds of thousands of revelers took part in Friday’s Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv, an annual event promoted and funded by the city that draws worldwide attention. But Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender campaigners say Israel is spending lavishly on promoting the event abroad, but does not do enough to fund programs year-round.
The LGBT community was mobilized a month before the high-profile Pride Week with the announcement that the Tourism Ministry was spending NIS 11 million ($2.86 million) on advertising to attract European visitors to the event.
The sum was 10 times the amount of annual state funding for LGBT associations.
“Spending 1.5 million shekels to paint a rainbow on a plane full of tourists, that’s ridiculous,” said Imri Kalman, co-chair of Aguda, Israel’s largest LGBT rights NGO. “There was a click and we woke up,” he said.
“We finally understood the hypocrisy of this government and this prime minister, who boasts in English abroad about the freedom enjoyed by homosexuals in Israel but never the utters the word in Hebrew when he gets home.”
After a threat by campaigners to cancel the annual Gay Pride parade this year, the community decided to bargain for a bigger share of state aid.
The Finance Ministry acquiesced, announcing it would give gay and transgender groups NIS 11 million — equal to the publicity campaign — over three years.
Tolerance toward gays in Israel can evaporate outside the cultural enclave known as “The Tel Aviv Bubble.” Last year, 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox extremist as she took part in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade.
Nevertheless, Israel is seen as progressive in terms of the visibility and equality of the LGTB community.
The army, often seen as a conservative institution, is open to gay and transgender soldiers.
Same sex marriage is not performed in Israel, where no civil ceremonies are allowed, but when a couple marries abroad the union is recognized by the authorities back home.
Many practical advances in status and legal standing have been won by appealing to the Supreme Court, after legislation in favor of gay rights has been shot down in the Knesset, where traditionalist Jews and Muslims have clout.
Amir Ohana, one of the two openly gay lawmakers in the present parliament, is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
He says Tel Aviv is one of the few cities in the world where he can walk with his male spouse, pushing their two babies without it surprising anyone.
“It’s very good that we have something to be proud of in this country and that is LGBT rights,” he said. “I only wish that one day we could stage a ‘pinkwashing’ contest throughout the region,” an apparent rebuke of claims that Israel’s support for gay rights is an attempt to diminish criticism of its policies towards Palestinians, as well as a challenge to some notoriously homophobic Muslim states.
But those accusations of pinkwashing resound with Fadi Khoury, a young Arab Israeli LGBT activist, who thinks the community has been too passive. He boycotted this year’s parade and invited Jewish fellows to do the same.
“Israel wants to rebrand itself as a liberal democracy — despite the occupation — by claiming that neighboring societies, especially the Palestinians, aren’t as tolerant towards sexual minorities,” he said.
“A moral human rights struggle cannot be one that is partial. The state is the same source of human rights infringements for both the Israeli LGBT community and the Palestinians under occupation.”