One day before Jerusalem’s gay pride parade and one year after the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki by an ultra-Orthodox homophobe, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has announced that he will not attend the parade. His stated reason: not wanting to “be part of something that offends the ultra-Orthodox.”
Barkat, give me a break.
You must know that your actions have implications even more far-reaching than the slap in the face they represent to the friends, family and community of a murdered 16-year-old girl. But in case you don’t, I’ll tell you.
By siding with those who would be “offended” by the parade, you are endorsing the sentiments of the man who murdered Banki, stabbed five other people and generally incited terror in the LGBTQ and allied communities of Israel. More than that, you are making yourself complicit in the aftereffects of that act of terror. You are implying that it’s okay to cater to homophobia because being offended by queer identity is a valid position. You are saying that the sensitivities of hateful people are more important than the safety of the people they hate.
But it doesn’t stop there.
By prioritizing the “offense” of the ultra-Orthodox over solidarity with queer people, you are joining the voices within Israel that seek to continually disenfranchise them — voices that happen to be dominated by the ultra-Orthodox. You are implying support for the court-backed homophobia that led to the cancellation of the pride parade in Beersheba. You are supporting the “celebration” of the first LGBT Pride Day in Israel this past February with the vetoing of the Shira Banki bills, five LGBTQ rights bills that included government recognition of civil unions, a ban on “conversion therapy” for minors, and a requirement for medical students to study sexual orientation in a way that’s up-to-date scientifically — all of which are rights that LGBTQ people needed and deserved.
You are supporting a status quo in which, as Knesset member Amir Ohana put it, LGBTQ people are “a community without rights,” who “cannot get married in their country, bring children into the world in their country, be their partners’ heir if he or she dies, not because they are hostile to the state, do not serve in the army or pay taxes,” but because they are queer.
The ultra-Orthodox do not need your attention to their sensitivity. Their rabbinate controls marriage, the education system, family law, public dietary law and even which shops can be open and which busses can run on which days of the week. And when they are offended, as they so often are when they are forced to confront the realities of modernity, they have no problem expressingit on their own.
They are doing just fine.
You, and many more like you, may retort by saying gay people are so well-treated in Israel, far better than the way they are treated in surrounding countries. To be clear, LGBTQ people in Israel are treated relatively well, and there are serious LGBTQ rights abuses in other countries. But neither the mistreatment of LGBTQ people elsewhere nor Israel managing to basically be humane to their LGBTQ citizens are excuses not to make progress. There is still much more to be done.
LGBTQ Israelis are telling you how to do better, and are telling you what they need. The main thing standing in the way? The regressive sensitivities of one of the most politically empowered groups in the country — and the people who would pander to them. People who would trot out Israel’s LGBTQ-friendly track record when it’s politically opportune, but would refuse to stand against the oppression of LGBTQ people when push comes to shove. People, Mayor Barkat, like you.
Lana Adler is a Forward Summer Fellow working on opinion. Follow her on Twitter @Lana_Macondo