Israel’s LGBTQ+ community fear for future under far-right government

Maria Rashed

The Guardian  /  December 22, 2022

Elements of Netanyahu-led coalition have been openly hostile and rolling back of some gay laws is on agenda.

The prospect of the far right joining government after Israel’s recent election has left the country’s LGBTQ+ community fearing for the future.

Elements of the incoming coalition led by the prime minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu have not hidden the fact that they are hostile to Palestinians and LGBTQ+ people.

Avi Maoz, the leader of the extremist religious nationalist party Noam that helped Netanyahu’s bloc win, has said queer people are a “threat to the family”, and that the greatest achievement women can make is to marry and raise children.

Maoz is expected to head a new “national Jewish identity” authority with powers over some school activities, including minority rights and gender equality.

For many leftwing voters, the rise of a homophobic and ultra-religious government was not a surprise after four years of political chaos and successive elections triggered by Netanyahu’s corruption trial. Despite initial coalition negotiation difficulties, it is expected the new government will last a whole term.

Matan Rudner voted for the leftwing party Meretz, which failed to pass the electoral threshold in last month’s election and is out of the Knesset altogether, diluting an already small leftwing representation.

The 24-year-old tour guide, who identifies as gay, emigrated to Israel in 2017 from the US and lives in Jerusalem. “I feel that I have dedicated my life and will dedicate my life to God, to the Jewish people, and to this state,” he said. “But for many years, Israel has been moving in this direction … I hope something will change, but I don’t know if it will.”

With the rolling back of gay adoption and surrogacy laws on the new government’s legislative agenda, Rudner is worried about whether he will be able to have a family. “The future that I see for myself in this country is much darker than before the election,” he said. “I can’t imagine my future not in Israel though. I feel there’s no option but to stay here and fight for my rights.”

Israel’s cultural and economic capital, Tel Aviv, is also seen as under threat. Noam has called for the cancellation of Gay Pride events.

Hilal Habashi, a transgender Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Jaffa, an Arab-majority area to Tel Aviv’s south, who works in technology, said she found the political situation confusing.

“It seems they will start with small things, removing stuff from the healthcare package, like subsidized medicines. Maybe we won’t get hormones or access to surgery prep … If you need to pay private prices for that, it will affect everyone no matter how much money you make.”

Habashi already makes an effort not to appear feminine when she leaves the house in her neighbourhood, which she describes as conservative. “There already isn’t a lot of sympathy for trans people. If we are going to have a place for this type of talk in public – transphobia and homophobia – it will make it a lot harder for me to live my life, and that’s scary,” she said.

“I fear being persecuted because I’m a trans woman … The Palestinian community is also treated badly by the government, officials and police. What we face is traumatic.”

Some members of the LGBTQ+ community are thinking of leaving. “I felt betrayed by my own people. It is a big disappointment, and still very hard to accept,” said Shay Lerner, 34, a DJ who is planning a move to Germany. “I’m disappointed in my country because this is not the way I was raised: I was raised to take responsibility for my actions and to look at other people and see them as human beings.”

Israel thinks of itself as a democracy, Lerner said, but finds that hard to reconcile with her experiences as a queer person and a leftwing human rights activist. “You cannot really be a democracy just for one people, only the Jewish people … This is a real fear.

“They will begin to refuse us services, and we will feel the loss of the rights which we fought for for so long.”

Ultimately, there is a lack of political engagement in the queer community, she added – something that needs to change. “Nobody really wants to get involved with politics here because it’s seen as dirty … I hope this will be a great lesson.”

Maria Rashed in Tel Aviv