Israeli pride and prejudice

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Ofer Newman and Liana Merom Asif are two Israelis who took the time to meet me for coffee last week. We had just left the Israeli Consulate in New York City, where Ofer and Liana educated a handful of American Jews about Israeli Gay Youth (IGY), an organization that seeks to provide “social space” for LGBT Israeli youth, including many find themselves in oppressive environments. Cars screamed and jackhammers pounded the sidewalk, but from our conversation I was able to gain a deeper insight into the world of “queer Israel” – the good, the bad, and the uncertain.

Ofer is the CEO of IGY, a post he held after serving as a senior advisor to current Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who was then the opposition leader in the Knesset. Liana, a former IDF fighter, is the vice president of the IGY. Both were active members of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist, Zionist and secular youth movement that dates back to Mandatory Palestine. This undoubtedly informs the progressive angle on the Israeli social issues that they both expressed. IGY started in 2002 as a clandestine operation in Tel Aviv, but now has over 400 volunteers and over 4,000 young people participating in ongoing activities throughout the year. These activities include weekly meetings, marches in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, researching LGBT issues in Israel (such as the “situation” of gay men in the IDF), and participating in workshops and events. conferences with the aim of making social spaces more “inclusive, egalitarian and empowering. IGY is currently working with the Ministry of Welfare and Employment to establish a training center where “at risk” Israeli LGBT youth can graduate in a specific skill after their military service.

Ofer and Liana tell me that they are shocked “on a daily basis” by the stories of the children who pass through the doors of the IGY, some of whom are homeless. A girl slept whole nights in the women’s section of a local synagogue after revealing herself to be a lesbian to her father. Both recognized the iconoclasm of Israel in relation to its Middle Eastern neighbors with regard to the rights of sexual minorities, but also recognized the two communities that continue to trample on such liberalism – the Orthodox Jews and the community. Arab from Israel. IGY promises a welcoming home for young people, many of whom belong to these two circles.

IGY not only defends the rights of LGBT people, but also the relationships between those who are systematically presented as enemies. Perhaps those excluded from societal factions can bridge divisions more successfully than politicians and legislation.

As a result, not only IGY defends the rights of LGBT people, but also the relationships between those who are systematically presented as enemies. Perhaps those excluded from societal factions can bridge divisions more successfully than politicians and legislation.

“We like to say that around our Shabbat tables we welcome all of Israeli society,” Liana said. “We can use our identity to address issues not only related to LGBT issues, for example Jewish-Arab relations. During our seminars, everything is in Hebrew and Arabic. We celebrate all the holidays together. We tackle the idea of ​​combining queer identity and religion, and we tackle issues in small communities. It is, I think, a way to make Israeli society not only diverse, because we not only live next to each other, but we are friends with each other, so we are building a society that is together. .

I asked Ofer and Liana about their education, hoping to hear how their experiences shaped their activism. Ofer grew up in a northern kibbutz, a close-knit community of nearly seven hundred people. “Everyone knew everything about everyone,” he says, “and for me that was an incentive to come out of the closet very soon. I realized that everyone was already talking and thinking. Ofer remembers visiting the Kibbutz from his childhood after starting his work with IGY as very moving. He met his former kindergarten teacher and friends of his parents to describe his life as a homosexual in Israeli society, a universe still very distant for most kibbutzniks. Liana grew up in Jerusalem, “the city where everything happens”, and was inspired to start working in social activism after seeing her community fail when it comes to how LGBT youth are treated.

The perspective I heard on Frozen Americanos was one of optimism, passion, but also grievance. As much as Israeli society is known for celebrating love in Tel Aviv’s infamous gay bars, so are the walls of reality: unsustainable occupation of the West Bank, blatant right-wing homophobia. religion and violence among Jews. and the Arabs – getting closer.

“The work we do,” Ofer noted, “doesn’t just apply to our participants. They go home, they go back to their communities, they go back to their synagogues, to their mosques – and they create a change. Because they are more in love with themselves. And like RuPaul says, if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else? “

After thanking Ofer and Liana for their time and returning to downtown traffic, I looked back at the two Israelis staring at the epicenter of the Jewish diaspora. I wondered if New York City was appealing to homosexuals in Israel, where the collision of often conflicting identities is ingrained in their society. I decided I didn’t want to believe it, simply because the Zionist project calls for a Jewish and democratic state. In order to make this dream come true, LGBT Jews in our ancestral homeland need boots on the ground.


Blake flayton is director of new media and a columnist for the Jewish Journal.


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