Israel PM Netanyahu fails to appease the LGBT community

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued a letter in response to criticism from the LGBT+ community who have accused him of discrimination after he backtracked his support to extending surrogacy rights to gay couples.

Netanyahu addressed the letter to Barbara “Goldy” Goldberg, Vice President of the World Congress of GLTB Jews (WDG), one of the organisations that had written to the prime minister to protest his stance on the surrogacy law.

It was Amir Ohana, the first openly gay lawmaker in Netanyahu’s Likud party, who proposed the amendment to the surrogacy law which would have seen gay parents being able to access those services in the country. Netanyahu had initially expressed support for the amendment only to vote against it.

A man waves an Israeli flag during Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride parade on August 2, 2018 (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty)

In the message dated July 31 and published by the WDG on Monday, Netanyahu describes himself as “proud to be the prime minister of one of the world’s most open and democracies,” writing that “Israel consistently upholds civil equality and civil rights of all its citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”

As for the matter of the surrogacy law, Netanyahu did not address his change of position which sidelined gay parents, but simply stated that he has supported “LBGTQ family rights on numerous occasions” and that the law he voted for “was an important step in supporting single mothers.”

The letter failed to satisfy the concerns of LGBT+ activists, who have also accused Netanyahu’s government of“pinkwashing” for advertising Israel as a gay-friendly destination at the Berlin Pride march just days after protests and a nationwide strike saw tens of thousands of protestors condemning the vote on surrogacy rights.

Participants take part in the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride parade on August 2, 2018 (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty)

Assaf Weiss, WDG officer-at-large, strongly rejected Netanyahu’s assessment of LGBT+ protections in Israel.

“In contrast to what Netanyahu wrote in his letter, Israel does not promote full equality of rights for the gay community. On the contrary, the current government is one of the worst that the gay community has been subject to, and the discriminatory vote on the surrogacy law is only the tip of the iceberg,” he wrote in a statement responding to the prime minister’s letter on the WDG website.

“Every day transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexuals are discriminated against and the time has come for the government to present real actions to end discrimination and not tell us to settle for crumbs,” he added.

Israel has laws against discrimination of LGBT+ people, who can openly serve in the military, gender reaffirmation surgery is state-funded and the country recognises same-sex marriages stipulated abroad but, as only religious authorities are allowed to legally wed people in the country, same-sex couples are among those who cannot get married in the country.