The foremost goal of Israel’s enemies is to defame, delegitimize, and destroy the Jewish state. They seek to make Israel hated by the world with false accusations of human-rights abuses when precisely the opposite is true. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only country with full religious and press freedoms and human rights protections.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the goal of Israel’s genocidal neighbors, like Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, is to deflect attention from their own egregious human rights violations by scapegoating the Jews, just as the Nazis did before them.
Finding cultural icons prepared to respond to these defamatory attacks and speak up for Israel as a great bastion for human rights is critical. It is also proving incredibly difficult seeing that so many celebrities lack the backbone to take a stand.
This year, on March 8th, at the Plaza in New York City, The World Values Network will be hosting its Sixth Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, honoring men and women who stand up for human rights, fight genocide, and promote human dignity. Among the principal honorees will be great defenders of Israel and public servants like Dennis Prager and Congressman Rick DeSantis of Florida.
A principal honoree will be Caitlyn Jenner, an icon in the LGBTQ community and strong supporter of the State of Israel, who will be receiving our Champion of Israel and LGBTQ Rights Award.
Caitlyn’s willingness to stand up and tell the truth about Israel as a country that is a great bastion of human rights and is protecting the lives of its citizens — including the lives and rights of LGBTQ citizens, who are otherwise being brutalized in the Middle East — is courageous and exemplary. This is especially true since the Middle East is a cesspit of human-rights abuses where gay and transgender men and women especially are treated as subhumans with no protections. In Iran, as is well publicized, gay men are hanged from cranes in city squares, and barbarity of this nature is endemic throughout the Middle East.
Some Jewish conservatives and members of the Orthodox community who have moral or religious qualms about gay and transgender issues have contacted me with concerns. This is surprising. Our focus as an organization is on human rights and on Israel as a light unto the nations. Which person calling themselves religious, decent, or moral would ever object to the point that LGBT men and women are human beings and God’s children who dare never be persecuted, tortured, or murdered? How many horror stories have we heard from the Middle East about gay Palestinian men fleeing to Israel from the Palestinian Territories just to stay alive?
Let me be clear. The highest Jewish value is the infinite worth of every human life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. One does not have to endorse a lifestyle or have it accord with one’s religious principles to respect every person’s human rights and the need for every life to be protected and kept alive.
Widely considered the most famous openly transgender woman on earth, Caitlyn is an outspoken advocate for the infinite worth of the human individual and mutual respect that must be practiced among God’s children, a value that is at the heart of Judaism. It is Judaism that declared so eloquently in Genesis that God created human beings in His image.
It is also a value exemplified by Israel, which has always been a world leader in securing the rights and well-being of people of all identities and faiths.
Israel is a country where gay and transgender men and women can walk, march, and live openly without fear and with complete respect. In the Middle East, that is simply astonishing. Israel annually hosts some of the world’s largest gay-pride marches, events that could never take place anywhere else in the region lest the marchers be mowed down by machines guns or beheaded.
I understand that many religious people -– whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim — would object to these parades. But that is beside the more important point, which is that Israel is a democracy and bastion of human rights that allows people to openly advocate for a cause close to their hearts without fear of reprisal from their government.
I am an Orthodox Jew and a rabbi. I respect and live by Jewish law. But religion that is coercive or oppressive is an abomination. I would not want to live in a place like Iran, where religious doctrines are enforced at the end of a gun barrel. I would vomit having to live in a country where a warm human being like Caitlyn Jenner had to fear for her life.
Those who object to LGBTQ parades in Israel may do so peacefully, just as those who wish to march may do so peacefully as well. That’s the whole point of a Israel as a democracy that stands up for human rights and values, precisely the opposite of BDS lies that are increasingly paraded on campus and throughout Europe.
Israel is the only place in the Middle East where a transgender man or woman can safely walk the streets protected not only by laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, but by soldiers who could themselves be transgender. In 1993, Israel became one of the first countries to protect the rights of transgender soldiers, providing them with the constitutional right to serve. Today, Israel is one of only 18 nations whose armies allow transgender individuals to serve.
If someone like Caitlyn were to take one step outside of Israel into any of its neighbors, like Gaza or the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, she would be in instant and immediate danger.
That is something that all men and women claiming to be religious or moral must prevent.
Last year, even a top Hamas commander was executed because he was denounced as a homosexual. And gay Palestinians continue to flee to Israel for sanctuary.
At least 13 countries impose the death penalty for “same-sex sexual acts,” including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, Iraq. Other Muslim countries provide for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for homosexuality or “debauchery.” A video published in 2016 showed ISIS throwing a gay man off the top of a building.
In 2007, Kuwait adopted a law that provided prison terms for anyone “imitating the opposite sex in any way.” In one 2014 case, a Saudi man was sentenced to three years in jail and 450 lashes after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. In May 2016, a group of 51 Muslim states blocked 11 gay and transgender organizations from attending an international meeting on ending AIDS.
Jews are the last people who should be condemning fellow Jews for standing up for the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and we should be at the forefront of applauding heroic defenses of Israel from outstanding friends like Caitlyn.
During the Holocaust, homosexuals, like Jews, were forced to wear symbols identifying them as subject to “special treatment.” Instead of yellow-triangle badges, gays were assigned pink ones. The Nazis did not seek to exterminate every homosexual as they did the Jews. Nevertheless, they killed as many as 15,000 while others were brutally treated by camp guards and other inmates.
The targeting of LGBTQ citizens for persecution and death by Middle Eastern countries is something unconscionable that must be stopped. How could anyone object to our organization standing up to those who would treat gays with similar intolerance?
It is bad enough that LGBTQ activists who stand up and praise Israel for protecting its citizens are often attacked by anti-Semites for what they refer to as “pinkwashing,” which they claim is an effort to divert attention from Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Haters of Israel cannot countenance anyone suggesting that Israel has any positive attributes, even if the facts are that Israel’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals is a global model of tolerance.
Israel’s detractors, particularly those in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, falsely claim they care about the welfare of Palestinians when, in truth, their goal is nothing short of the destruction of Israel. If they cared an iota about the Palestinian people, groups like “Queers for Palestine” would denounce the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other extremists for their persecution of the LGBTQ community and applaud Israel’s policies.
Let’s be clear: the accusation of “pinkwashing,” like the BDS campaign, is fundamentally anti-Semitic.
We stand against the anti-Semites, the Nazis, the Muslim and Jewish extremists, and everyone else who would deny people their human rights because of their sexual orientation, however they may feel about it in religious terms. We stand by Israel a Jewish state, with a Jewish character, that always upholds the protection of the vulnerable and the persecuted.
We thank and honor Caitlyn Jenner for her stand against bigotry and her stand with the Jewish people and with Israel. We greatly look forward to her speech on 8 March at our gala at The Plaza. And we hope that everyone who believes in tolerance will stand with us.