Slapping down far-right partners, Netanyahu vows no change to LGBT status quo

After members of Religious Zionism speak of plans to curb pride events, incoming PM says parades will not be limited by his government

Thousands take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
Thousands take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the presumed incoming prime minister, has said in internal conversations that his government will not allow any change to the status quo regarding LGBT rights in the country, including limitations on pride parades, according to multiple reports Friday.

His comments were reported by several media outlets, indicating the unofficial statement had come from his office, an apparent signal to his potential partners in the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

It came amid fears in the LGBT community of possible steps against them by a government that will include members of the far right, some of which are avowedly opposed to the community.

Several members of Religious Zionism, which is expected to be a top partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, have spent the days following the election detailing their plans to curb gay pride events.

On Thursday MK Avi Maoz, head of the anti-LGBT Noam faction in Religious Zionism, said he would work to legally abolish an annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem,

Maoz told Army Radio that his party would “investigate canceling the pride parade from a legal point of view.” He claimed the yearly celebration was meant as a “provocation,” describing it as offensive.

“It is illegal for a person to walk naked in the street. There is no public participation without limits. What a person does in his private home is their business and I don’t intend on getting involved,” Maoz said.

He also indicated that he would seek to roll back a Health Ministry ban on so-called conversion therapy, allowing “psychological advice for those who don’t want to be gay.”

Health officials around the world say that conversion therapy is scientifically dubious and possibly dangerous, with major health organizations pointing to what they term pseudo-scientific methods and the treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Approximately 7,000 people march in the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade, which has taken place annually for nearly two decades. While largely accepted by residents, it is often accompanied by protests from religious hardliners, and there have been two stabbing attacks, both by the same perpetrator, first in 2005 and a second fatal assault in 2015.

MK Avi Maoz speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The religious extremist Lehava group, allied with Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir, holds yearly protests alongside the parade and in 2006, Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich co-organized a “beast march” in Jerusalem, in which religious opponents of the Pride March walked with donkeys in order to mock the parade.

Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock said Thursday that members of the LGBT community should not fear the rise of the far right.

“We’re not going to hammer anyone,” she said. “We will serve all citizens, including those who do not think like us and whose lifestyles are different.”

However, she too said her party will seek to “bring order to the public space,” in an apparent reference to opposition to gay pride events.

“Regardless of pride, there shouldn’t be marches of people walking down the street naked or half naked,” Strock said.

“The problem is with years-long efforts, not just here but around the world, to force things on the public.”

Noam burst onto the political scene in 2019 with a series of provocative highway billboards and video ads with the slogan “Israel chooses to be normal.” It merged into Religious Zionism, alongside Otzma Yehudit, under intense pressure from Netanyahu before the 2021 election. Last year, Maoz became the first representative of his party in the Knesset.

The far-right Religious Zionism slate soared to 14 seats in the November 1 election and is expected to be a crucial partner in a governing coalition led by Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu.

Right-wing activists demonstrate against the annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Religious Zionism MK Ofir Sofer accused the LGBT community of perpetrating “violence” during an interview on the Channel 13 network.

When pressed by the interviewer on what he meant, Sofer said: “Violence means an inability to express an opinion, inability …  to speak truthfully on this issue.”

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