A Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker said Friday the party will establish an internal grouping for gay members after national elections on September 17.
“We didn’t want to set up the gay caucus two weeks before the elections so it wouldn’t look like exploitation of the community,” MK Eli Avidar was quoted saying by Channel 12 news at an event organized by the Tel Aviv Municipality’s LGBTQ Center and the Aguda, a gay rights group.
“There are people who want it and it’ll be established after the upcoming elections,” he added.
Avidar’s comments came two weeks after the publication of video from 2013 in which Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman appeared to denounce gay pride parades in a meeting with a hardline ultra-Orthodox rabbi.
Liberman, who has vowed to force a “liberal-national government” after elections if neither Netanyahu’s Likud or the opposition Blue and White party can form a coalition without Yisrael Beytenu, was criticized by politicians from across the spectrum and others after the tape emerged.
He later sought to clarify his remarks from the meeting with then Jerusalem Faction leader rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, whose support the Yisrael Beytenu chief was seeking for then mayoral candidate Moshe Lion.
Avidar blamed Nir Barkat, a Likud lawmaker who defeated Lion in the 2013 mayor race, for the emergence of the tape.
“We won’t fall anymore for the tricks of Likud and Nir Barkat,” Avidar said.
Avidar, who in June became the first Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker to take part in Jerusalem’s pride march, also reiterated his party’s support for civil marriage and legislation allowing gay couples to use a surrogate in order to have a child.
“We don’t tell anyone what to do or how to live,” he said.
Following the publication of the video last month, Liberman reached out to the LGBTQ community and in a letter said his party “respects all people for who they are” and backs civil marriage for gay Israelis.
Ohad Hizki, head of Aguda, Israel’s largest LGBT rights group, criticized Liberman’s letter at the time, saying he had avoided stating in plain language his views on the LGBTQ community.
“We struggled to find answers in the letter we received from Liberman,” Hizki said in a statement. “An explicit commitment to civil marriage for the LGBT is important, but besides that we couldn’t understand if Yisrael Beytenu has changed its opinion on the LGBT community or not. You can’t claim the mantle of liberalism without advancing equal rights for the LGBT.”
Yisrael Beytenu has made a central plank of its election campaign the championing of a secular agenda in the face of what it deems Orthodox hegemony over key elements of Israeli life.
It was Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu-led coalition in May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties that led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call new elections.