Tel Aviv Diary: Pride Week Shows That Israel Is Both An Occupying Country And One of World's Most Liberal Societies | Opinion

Hamas has found a weapon to which, at least for the moment, Israeli technology has yet to provide a complete solution. Over the past several weeks, Hamas has been flying kites and launching balloons over the border into Israel to deliver small firebombs, which decimate Israeli fields and forests.

During the past week alone, 2,200 acres of land in Israel has been scorched, destroying crops, nature reserves, and wildlife. With the help of drones, Israel has been able to intercept many of these airborne torches and balloons before they were able to cross the border, but that preventative tactic has only been partially successful.

Still, despite the ongoing tensions on the Gaza border, the story that received the most attention this week was the cancellation of the scheduled exhibition soccer match between Israel’s National team and National team of Argentina, which includes legendary soccer star Lionel Messi. Cancellation of the highly anticipated exhibition match was met with extreme disappointment in Israel, along with calls for Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev to resign.

The match, originally arranged by a private promoter and planned to take place in Haifa, was moved to Jerusalem at Regev’s insistence. She also decided to change the event from a private happening to a state-sponsored event (i.e., part of Israel’s 70th celebrations, over which she has been in charge). Vigorous controversy developed around who would get tickets to this much-awaited game.

TlvPride2018 Revellers dip in the Mediterranean sea as they take part in a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, Israel June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen REUTERS/Amir Cohen

With heightened publicity and the change of venue to Jerusalem, cancellation of the event became a targeted goal for Palestinians. Opponents of Israel started putting pressure on Argentina to withdraw. On Wednesday, the Argentinian team officially withdrew. At a press conference in Barcelona, Claudio Tapia, President of the Argentinian Soccer Association stated: “Unfortunately we cannot come to Israel in the current situation.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators had protested the day before at the Soccer club’s practice session. The decision to withdraw was seen as a significant victory by the Palestinians, and the BDS  movement that has been acting on their behalf. In Israel, despite Regev claiming the cancellation was due to terroristic  threats against the Argentine players, a poll released Thursday night found 61% of Israelis believe the Minister should not have insisted the game be moved to Jerusalem. To many, the Argentinian cancellation is largely seen as a self-inflicted injury on Israel, delivered by Regev.

While all the above-mentioned events were transpiring, one of the world’s best-attended Pride Weeks began in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv’s Pride Week, which has been taking place for the last 20 years, is attended by over 200,000 people from dozens of countries and culminates in the annual Pride Parade and a tremendous concert on the beach, where many of Israel’s leading contemporary artists perform. Tel Aviv has long been considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, with a large and thriving LGBT community.  

Pride Week, with its highly attended series of events showcasing the LGBT community has, at times, come under criticism for what is referred to as “pink-washing,” — i.e. critics claims Israel uses its long-standing enlightened policy towards the LGBTQ community to “whitewash” its behavior towards the Palestinians. When I spoke with long-term gay rights activist and the first member of the Israeli Knesset to come out as being gay, Uzi Even, the 77-year-old chemistry professor playfully said, “I’d rather be the beneficiary of the pink-washing than the opposite.” The former MK then turned to his Dutch partner of over 10 years and asked him where was he more comfortable being a gay man — here in Tel Aviv or in Amsterdam? Without hesitation or question, his partner answered— in Tel Aviv. 

Of course, it was not always that way. Even himself had to fight the earlier battles, being dismissed from both from the military, and later, from his high-security job because he was gay. When Even’s story became public, the government of Prime Minister Yitzrahak Rabin changed the policy to allow openly gay people to serve in any position in the army. That policy became a clear reality in May, when the current military Advocate-General, Sharon Afek, who is openly gay, achieved the rank of Major-General.

I asked Even why he thought Israel (whose society is conservative and heavily influenced by the religious in so many other areas) had become so open to upholding gay rights. He answered that without question, Israel’s support for gay rights was a result of the country’s strong family values — with  family still  so important in Israel, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are not and would not be willing to sever ties with their gay children. 

I also spoke to City Council Member Dr. Efrat Tolkowsky, regarding what she thought about pink-washing and the larger question of intersectionality. Tolkowsky said: “I see this [intersectionality] as a method of almost violent censorship. I can believe in different things.  I am a Lesbian living in Tel Aviv and my son is serving [in the IDF] on the Gaza border. No one can tell me what to think”.  

Similarly to the United States, it has been the public and the judiciary that have carried the torch in acceptance of gay rights, with the political system still too dependent on the religious parties to take action. Earlier this week, the opposition, led by the Zionist Camp, introduced legislation in the Knesset to make gay marriage fully legal. Government Knesset members voted the bill down, albeit by a slim margin,. Despite this loss, Israeli courts have granted gay couples almost identical rights to other couples, and gay marriages abroad are recognized in Israel.

Regardless of the reason, there is no question that whether in the army, or in civilian life, Israel and Tel Aviv in particular, are among the most LGBTQ-friendly places in the world — which translates into one thing — Israel is a supremely complicated place. Any attempt to use stereotypes to describe Israel runs right into its complex reality — i.e. a country that has been occupying another people for 50 years, while at the same time, in various other areas, being one of the most liberal societies in the world.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​