Knesset Speaker Ohana stays away from special LGBTQ rights session

Likud MK, the first openly gay head of the parliament, says he can’t attend due to hosting Kazakhstan’s Senate speaker; only one coalition MK takes part

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana attends an Independence Day state ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana attends an Independence Day state ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amir Ohana, the first openly gay Knesset speaker, turned down an invitation to speak at an LGBTQ rights lobby event in the parliament on Tuesday, citing scheduling issues, according to a report.

The lobby, made up entirely of lawmakers from the opposition, organized a special day dedicated to LGBTQ rights to mark Pride Month, with various Knesset committees holding discussions on related topics and a central session being held at the parliament to wrap up the events.

Organizers publicly invited Ohana, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, to be a keynote speaker at the closing event. But according to the Walla news site, the Knesset speaker declined and said he was set to host Kazakhstan’s Senate speaker at the same time.

The events were organized by Yesh Atid MKs Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, Meirav Cohen and Idan Roll, as well as Labor MK Naama Lazimi.

Discussions were hosted on matters relating to LGBTQ rights at the Special Committee for Strengthening and Developing the Negev and Galilee, chaired by National Unity MK Michael Biton; the State Control Committee, chaired by Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy; the Special Committee on Young Israelis, chaired by Lazimi; and the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, chaired by National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata.

Only one coalition lawmaker took part in the lobby’s events — Likud MK Eli Dallal. Dallal, the chairman of the Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, hosted a discussion on how to prevent harm to LGBTQ youth, which featured no other coalition representatives. Dallal was also the only coalition MK in the central session.

Ohana is the first openly gay person to hold the key role of Knesset speaker, the head of Israel’s legislative branch of government.

File: Noam chair Avi Maoz speaks during a function at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

He has come under fire from the coalition’s most prominent anti-LGBTQ lawmaker Avi Maoz, head of the one-man ultraconservative Noam party, who said in April that he was filled with “embarrassment and pain” over the prominence of Ohana and his spouse at official state ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence day.

In a letter to party supporters, Maoz said he was upset that Ohana and his husband Alon Hadad were presented “to the eyes of the entire world” at the events as “‘the Knesset speaker and his husband,’ as if this were an authentic and acceptable Jewish norm.”

The proudly homophobic legislator expressed regret over his role in appointing the speaker when the government was formed.

“Admittedly, my vote in favor of his appointment was in fulfillment of the coalition’s commitment to supporting the speaker presented by Likud, but I did not realize that this appointment would become a symbol and example of this trend,” Maoz wrote, apparently referencing single-sex couples.

He added that he now regretted not leaving the Knesset plenary to protest the vote confirming Ohana as speaker.

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