In Kiryat Tivon, residents elect Israel’s first transgender city councilor

‘I want an equal place at the table,’ says long-time activist Sheila Weinberg; LGBTQ rights group thanks her for ‘breaking the glass walls for all of us’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Sheila Weinberg, the first transgender Israeli to be elected to a city council. (LinkedIn: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Sheila Weinberg, the first transgender Israeli to be elected to a city council. (LinkedIn: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

For the first time in Israel’s history, a transgender person has been elected to a local council, with well-known social activist Sheila Weinberg winning a seat in Kiryat Tivon during Tuesday’s nationwide municipal elections.

The Aguda-The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel welcomed the 65-year old former teacher and Israeli Trans Association chair’s election, tweeting that Weinberg had “made history for the gay community and the trans community in particular.”

“Thank you Sheila for breaking the glass walls for all of us, in the hope that we will have trans representation in national politics in the future as well,” the advocacy group stated.

Weinberg represents the left-wing More for Tivon list, a union of liberal factions in the small northern town that received 37.3 percent of the vote.

“I was labeled as a son. Every woman has it hard and for a transgender woman the difficulties are double and multiplied, “Weinberg told the Walla news site following the election, adding, “I always feel that I have to prove much more.”

Her candidacy aimed to show that “I want an equal place at the decision-making table,” she noted.

And her win meant that “I put my foot in the door and opened it for transgender women and other transgenders,” Weinberg said, pledging to be an advocate on youth and LGBTQ issues.

Speaking with Israel Hayom during the lead-up to the election, Weinberg said that she believed that the 2024 municipal contests provided “an opportunity to break the glass ceiling.”

“There are more transgender people running in local authority elections, and I really hope that we will be able to sit at the decision-making table and have an impact,” she said.

While the government, widely considered the most right-wing in Israel’s history, appointed the first openly gay Knesset speaker, it also includes the anti-LGBTQ Noam party as well as a cabinet minister who called the Tel Aviv pride parade a “disgraceful vulgarity” and one who bragged about being a “proud homophobe.”

Last June, a Haredi member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition blasted the LGBTQ community in an interview, saying it was a graver threat to Israel than Islamist terror groups and adding that it was his duty to prevent Pride marches.

“In my worldview, the most dangerous thing to the State of Israel — more than Islamic State, more than Hezbollah, more than Hamas — is the permissiveness regarding arayot, because that’s what the Torah says,” Yitzhak Pindrus, a senior member of the United Torah Judaism party, told Channel 12 new, using a term for sexual relationships and practices that are forbidden by the Bible.

Despite this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others in his coalition say they are committed to protecting gay rights.

Israel is known as a gay haven in the Middle East, and Tel Aviv is frequently cited as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, with a Pride parade that draws hundreds of thousands of revelers from Israel and abroad. But the full picture is more complicated.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Israel. Still, like other couples not recognized by the country’s religious establishment, LGBTQ couples can access the legal benefits of marriage, such as inheritance, parenting, adoption and other rights if the couple is wed abroad.

JTA, Michael Bachner and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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