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Israel’s liberal homophobia

The coverage of the fatal shooting attack at Bar Noar belies a kinder, gentler homophobia.\nIsrael celebrates gay pride, but struggle for equal rights persists As the LGBT community celebrates 20 years of visibility, we note the vast improvement in equal rights. But we must also ask why the state flies the banner of gay rights but has not active policy of doing away with existing\ndiscrimination.

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24th June 2013 13:24

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

Israel’s liberal homophobia
The coverage of the fatal shooting attack at Barnoar belies a kinder,
gentler homophobia.

By Aeyal Gross | Haaretz, Jun.17, 2013 | 2:08 PM

Conservative homophobia is easy to spot. It holds that homosexuals are sick deviants because of whom we have earthquakes and bird flu and other dreadful things. It’s much more difficult to spot liberal homophobia, with its sweet and pretty face and appearance of enlightenment. At its foundation is mainly a distinction between private and public space, with acceptance of
homosexuality as long as it exists in the private sphere.

The most obvious examples of this position are statements such as: "Heterosexuals don’t flaunt their sexuality around" or "Do whatever you want in your homes, but why take pride in this?" Such positions adopt "liberal color-blindness" while ignoring heterosexism and society’s inherent homophobia while ignoring the fact that heterosexuals share their sexual preference with society all the time: in weddings; while walking on the street without fear of violence; and in what they say in the family setting and in the workplace about couples and relationships without fear of hostility or discrimination. Every incident of this kind is a display of heterosexuality and an answer to the question of whom the person sleeps next to in bed.

A kinder, gentler version of liberal homophobia once took the form of a debate over the Pride Parade in Jerusalem, when many people said they were fine with homosexuals, but saw no reason why they should create a provocation, and in Jerusalem to boot. The debates for and against the Pride Parade in Jerusalem reflected that view, presenting the homophobic approach
that wished to ban the parade as a "parallel" to the desire to march in Jerusalem as well.

After the deadly shooting attack at Barnoar, liberal homophobia surfaced along with support for the community. It took the form of a debate over coming out of the closet and "outing." Many people said that a person’s sexual orientation was his own private business, and spoke out against the expectation that well-known people would come out of the closet. The debate ignored the fact that society considers only one sexual orientation a private matter. Heterosexuality is always public, and may always be talked about.

The most obvious expression of liberal homophobia after the murders at Barnoar was the one that sought to negate the relationship between the attacks and homophobia with the claim that the murders might have been committed for personal reasons — an assertion that is being made now as well. It was as if indiscriminate shooting at LGBT teenagers at Barnoar could be disconnected from the social structures of heterosexism and homophobia, even if it was committed by a person whose personal history fueled his hatred.

It takes the form of the current discourse about "crimes of jealousy." For example, Dan Margalit, a reporter at Israel Hayom, writes: "A hate crime? No, it’s humiliation and jealousy and hatred of individuals toward individuals." Such denial is itself a form of homophobic injustice, of the liberal homophobia kind, which denies the existence of homophobia, usually from a place of privilege of one who never experienced that kind of group hatred.

One must look closely at the narrative published by the police so far to see this blindness. In this narrative, the murder suspect was told that his relative, a minor, had been seen several times at Barnoar and asked him what he had been doing there. His relative answered that he had been there, that a community activist had allegedly "sodomized" him and he wished to retaliate.

Without ascertaining what actually happened at this point, this narrative triggers a warning light for anyone who has experienced homophobia. The narrative is also a scenario for homophobia within the family. One relative asks another what he was doing in a gay hangout. The very nature of the question makes the respondent vulnerable to homophobia within the family and fear the response to being found out — a response that could consist of hatred of homosexuality and of gay people in general.

For example, a column in Yedioth Ahronoth written by Hagai Segal, who was convicted in the past for hate-based crimes, appeared under the headline, "It hurts, but less." Segal explained that the gay community has fewer reasons for pride now that the details of the murder investigation were revealed, and it was a private act of hatred. But only one who does not understand what homophobia is can miss how the revelation of the facts of the crime does not minimize the pain or the trauma at all.

Nir Katz and Liz Trubishi, who were murdered in Barnoar, are still victims of an indiscriminate shooting attack on LGBT teenagers, as are the wounded who are still in wheelchairs. The police narrative does not lessen the pain but actually intensifies the dread felt by anyone who understands the nature of homophobia. It turns the story into one that does not involve only homophobia in the abstract, but rather homophobia that is personal and family-related. Denial of homophobia and of the pain only exacerbates the hurt and the trauma.

The reports that the activist allegedly had sexual relations with the minor also played a part in the liberal-homophobic dance. "Do you think the community will engage in soul-searching now?" a researcher for a television program recently asked me. Yes, I answered, soul-searching is needed, but everyone should do it. Why does the heterosexual society require it of the LGBT community without doing it itself? After all, most cases of rape, sexual relations with minors or abuse of power that we hear about — without knowing or ascertaining at this point whether the alleged acts in this case took place or not — are heterosexual in nature. Only last week, an increase was reported in the number of sexual-harassment and rape complaints in the IDF. Although most of these cases were heterosexual in nature, in liberal homophobia the story immediately awakens the negative stereotypes against homosexuals.

The gay community must also deal critically with questions of sexual harassment, exploitation and violence in its ranks, particularly regarding minors. But that does not justify the homophobic way the topic is treated as we saw last week, and this discourse has no legitimacy when it focuses exclusively on the gay community. When Segal writes that the gay community has "fewer reasons for pride," he is taking advantage of the incident, as others have done, to smear it and absolve the heterosexual world of any blame.

This could be seen on Channel Two, which provided a platform for Adi Mintz, the former head of the Yesha Council, to voice his fear that members of the gay community were going to schools to "recruit" gay pupils. After posting an offensive status on Facebook in which Mintz asked whether members of the gay community were engaged in seducing teenagers, a television studio gave him a platform to spread his doctrine.

Dan Margalit expressed a milder version of that idea in his supposedly liberal statement that "members of the gay and lesbian community do not tend toward crime any more than others do, but if they had hoped to conceal, artificially, the strong emotions and jealousy and lust and intrigues and quarrels and prostitution and the use of force and the misuse of authority in their ranks, then the time has come for them to grow up and realize that they cannot appear in public looking like angels."

Strong emotions, jealousy, intrigues, quarrels, prostitution, the use of force and the misuse of authority – that is the image of homosexuality in the liberal style of homophobia that now rears its head, even as it is busy explaining that it is not homophobic at all.


Israel celebrates gay pride, but struggle for equal rights persists As the LGBT community celebrates 20 years of visibility, we note the vast improvement in equal rights. But we must also ask why the state flies the banner of gay rights but has not active policy of doing away with existing discrimination.
By Aeyal Gross |Haaretz, Jun.07, 2013 | 9:29 AM |

The report on Thursday of the arrest of suspects in the 2009 Bar Noar shootings, coming a day before the Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, brings the community back to the worst trauma it has ever experienced. At a time when we thought we were home free, the killings were a reminder that homophobia still exists, expressed not only in the act itself, but in the comments of support it engendered on the Web.

Reports are that the killings were not a hate crime, but stemmed, as it appears at press time, from a personal vendetta. And yet, the shooting did not target a known individual, but seems to have been sparked by hatred of LGBT people as a group, which various events in the suspect’s personal history seem to have brought about. Whatever the trigger that led to the murder may have been, it seems that the wish not to kill only a specific person but also LGBT as a group cannot be detached from the existence of homophobia as a social phenomenon.

These are the questions that will be bothering hundreds of thousands of people taking part in Friday’s march in Tel Aviv, the height of a week of parties and events that attract many people. The slogan of this year’s event "20 years of visibility" does its calculation from 1993, when the first gay public events were held in Sheinkin Park.

That was also the year the first event involving gays was held at the Knesset, initiated by Yael Dayan and featuring Prof. Uzi Even, a leader in changing discriminatory Israel Defense Forces policy. Also in that year, the High Court of Justice heard a petition by flight attendant Jonathan Danilowitz against El Al for refusing to recognize his partner’s right to free airline tickets, which led to the court’s first ruling on the subject of discrimination based on sexual orientation, delievered in 1994.

How is it that these changes came so fast, relatively speaking? To understand, we have to remember that the groundbreaking struggles of gays and lesbians involved participation in two vital institutions in Israeli society – the army (Even’s struggle), and family (Danilovich’s), the latter a battle joined later by lesbians seeking recognition of their parenting rights.

These fights not only didn’t undermine the institutions of army and family, they validated them. Researcher Ruti Kadish pointed out that the men wanted to be soldiers and the women wanted to be mothers, which are the roles Zionism envisioned for them.

Paradoxically, the status of religion worked in favor of the cause. Because in Israel we can only marry and divorce in a religious ceremony, the need for alternatives created the options of common-law marriages and overseas marriage ceremonies. These developed over the years into solutions for same-sex couples.


In the new millennium, the Foreign Ministry and other agencies pounced on these developments as an opportunity to "brand" Israel as democratic and liberal in an attempt to improve its image. For example, after the 2010 flotilla to Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on people to protest "in places were women are oppressed, homosexuals hanged in town squares, in places where there are no human rights. Go to Tehran. Go to Gaza." As if progress in LGBT rights can change the direction of the debate over human rights violations in the occupied territories. This exploitation of LGBT rights – known as "pinkwashing" – makes these rights the fig leaf of Israeli democracy.

The state flies the banner of LGBT rights but has no active policy of promoting them and doing away with existing discrimination. To a great extent, this approach became more pronounced after the Bar Noar shootings. In the past, support for the LGBT community came from leftist politicians because it was part of their general human rights-oriented worldview. Now, the universal condemnation of violence against LGBT people allowed the right wing to try to create a liberal image for itself, domestically as well.

Acceptance of the LGBT community in the Israeli mainstream depends on their being good citizens who want to be part of the existing social order. If in the early years of the millennium we saw a lesbian baby boom, now we’re seeing the same thing among gays, whether in joint parenting with women, or surrogacy, for those who can afford it.

As we celebrate 20 years of visibility, we note the huge change for the better in equal rights, freedom and in people’s lives. But we must also ask how the relative success in the struggle for rights in the realm of the family channels LGBT people to normative behavior, and the well-known pressure to enter a family structure – homonormativity – becomes integrated into homonationalism, with gay people, who were commonly perceived in 1993 as a threat to the state, becoming an instrument serving its propaganda.

Still, Friday’s parade is important, at least for the large, varied, norm-busting community that will flood Tel Aviv’s streets today with pride.