Israel's gay community making inroads into political mainstream
Likud, Labor and Kadima have all opened gay divisions this past year.

After years during which the gay community's struggles were associated with the left-wing parties and only Meretz and Hadash had gay divisions, over the past year three centrist parties have joined the pink wave. The first of the large parties was Kadima, which a year ago set up the Kadima B'Ga'ava (Kadima with pride ) section. Labor and Likud also recently established divisions for the gay community.

The two newest members, Labor and Likud, this week held an evening forum at the Evita bar in Tel Aviv. In the presence of a small audience, almost exclusively male, members of the gay community were encouraged to register with the parties. "I joined the Likud around a decade ago, unconnected to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual ) issue. A person does not have to change his political affiliation because of his sexual orientation," said the chairman of Pride in the Likud, Dr. Evan Cohen, a lecturer in linguistics at Tel Aviv University.

"We don't have to join a specific party because we are LGBTs, but have to ensure that our parent parties promote the LGBT agenda," he explained. The membership director for the group, doctoral student in philosophy Renana Leviani, noted that she was raised in a right-wing, religious home: "Returning to the Likud was going home, being lesbian and also right-wing - the person who I really am."

Leviani relates she was asked many times how there could be a Likud pride division. "I think that the question itself is problematic. The LGBT left wing took over the whole community; in reality we have already overtaken the Labor party's gay division in terms of the number of [facebook] Likes."

Leviani adds that "there are among us left and right, just like everywhere else. If they put a ballot box at a women's party, the right will win just as it did in the Knesset election, but the party's organizer will probably be from the radical left. Whoever asks this question comes from a condescending position and wants to maintain the existing situation. I believe that in the next two years there will be a lot more right-wing homosexuals and lesbians, and we will feature much more prominently in the media."

According to Leviani, this is the main problem: "Apart from Meretz, no Knesset members have come out of the closet. There are thousands of senior people in positions of power who are closet homosexuals and lesbians. There are even ministers who are homosexuals, but are afraid to come out of the closet. If 3,000 of us sign up, it will be easier for them to do it."

In response to the claim that the Likud oppresses minorities, Cohen utilizes his expertise as a linguist: "The use of certain words entails all kinds of mistaken basic assumptions. You have to distinguish between what is called civil rights, equality and national rights; these are completely different things. If there are communities that are a security or civil threat, I don't think they should have the same rights. I believe in full equal rights for citizens, so long as they don't threaten the security of the state."

Cohen, of course, supports full equal rights for the gay community. "LGBTs who are citizens of Israel don't walk around here wearing explosive belts and are not threats to security," he says.

The chairman of the gay group in the Labor party, Dan Slyper, had an ambitious goal: "One of the things I experience as a high school civics teacher is what happens during breaks. Every second sentence is, 'you homo, you faggot.' Part of the reason why we're getting into politics is to change these things."

Slyper believes the road to equality runs through recognition of gay couples. "The same-sex couples bill was submitted to the Knesset and we are working to get it passed into law," he says. "Our argument is that this is not changing the religious status quo and it's not a budgetary issue, so we think it does have a chance. The Likud group will help us promote it, and so will other parties in the coalition. We are also trying to review the possibility of changing the situation where Magen David Adom does not accept donations from homosexuals, and we forwarded a letter via Shelly Yachimovich to the chairman of Magen David Adom and to Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. If we do not get a response, we will petition the High Court of Justice."