Israel swore in another openly gay lawmaker on Monday, marking a record for the country considered a regional pioneer on LGBT rights, despite opposition from religious conservatives.
Yorai Lahav-Hertzano from the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem alliance became the latest politician to join the 120-seat Knesset, bringing to six the number of openly gay lawmakers.
All are men and represent parties from across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Lahav-Hertzano’s appointment came after a law change allowing ministers to leave their parliamentary seats and be replaced by another member of their own party. During March elections, he was on the Blue and White alliance slate, but though the party entered a unity government, its partners in Yesh Atid-Telem joined the opposition. Under Knesset rules, Lahav-Hertzano had the right to choose which of the two factions he would represent.
Five percent of Israeli lawmakers are now openly gay, the fourth-highest figure in the world, according to political scientist Andrew Reynolds.
It comes “after Britain, 8.1%, Liechtenstein, 8%, and the Scottish parliament, 7.7%,” said Reynolds, who directs an LGBT representative program at the University of North Carolina in the United States.
Israel’s first openly LGBT lawmaker, Uzi Even, was appointed in 2002. The LGBT community in the Jewish state has far more rights than those in most Middle Eastern countries.
Openly gay soldiers serve in the military, while Israel recognizes same-sex marriages conducted abroad, and gay and lesbian couples have surrogacy rights.
“There have been very positive developments in recent decades,” said Or Keshet from Israel’s leading LGBT organization Aguda.
“It’s very encouraging that there are six lawmakers representing different parties from the community,” he said, adding that their success made them role models for young people.
“But we expect all those elected to represent us and advance equal rights,” said Keshet. “And there is still a lot to do.”
First openly gay minister
While Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride parade usually draws huge crowds from around the world, the equivalent march in conservative Jerusalem is held under a heavy police presence.
Security was increased after the 2015 killing of Shira Banki, a teenager who was stabbed to death during the parade by ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Shlissel.
Several other people were wounded by Shlissel, who had been released just three weeks earlier, after spending 10 years in prison for a similar attack.
Annual Gay Pride events in both cities have been canceled this month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The day before last year’s parade, Netanyahu appointed Israel’s first openly gay minister.
Amir Ohana took on the justice portfolio, switching to public security as part of a new Netanyahu-led coalition sworn in last month.
Left-wing politician Itzik Shmuli, who is openly gay, also joined the government ranks, as minister for social affairs.
They sit alongside Rafi Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi, who last year endorsed controversial therapy to convert gay people to heterosexuality.
Peretz, who was education minister at the time, backtracked on his comments following protests.
While Aguda praised the record number of lawmakers, Keshet said the next step would be even greater diversity.
“We’ll love it when lesbians and trans people are also in parliament. That’s already the case in the United States,” he said.
“It will happen.”
Just seven women in the cabinet
Monday’s swearing in saw four new lawmakers, all women from Blue and White, also enter the Knesset. Their presence brings the total number of women in parliament to 33, over a quarter of the 120 seats.
The figure puts Israel at around 60th place in a world ranking by Inter-Parliamentary Union, which lists countries by the representation of women in their legislative houses. Rwanda tops the list with 49 out of 80 seats held by women.
Israel’s unity government, sworn in last month, is the most minister-rich in the country’s history with 34 ministers and another eight deputy ministers. However, of the 41 cabinet members, just seven are women.
Only one woman has ever served as Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir, from 1969-1974.