LGBT

What Knesset Means For Women, LGBTQs And Arabs

Monday, February 11, 2013
Jerusalem Open House director Elinor Sidi evaluated the outcomes of the recent Israeli elections for women, LGBTQs and ethnic groups.
 
Elinor Sidi, the executive director of the Israeli LGBTQ organization Jerusalem Open House, spoke to kaosgl.org regarding the 2013 elections in Israel. Sidi evaluated the outcomes of the recent Israeli politics for women, LGBTQs and ethnic groups.
 
“The Feiglins are those who really bother me: Proud homophobes who campaign on hatred and then come to LGBTQ centers to speak. They frighten me.”
 
“How very convenient it is to blame ultra-Orthodox men in everything.” This was a sentence from your article “Little Na’ama” on kaosgl.org. Has things changed since then?
Things are actually getting much worse for the ultra-orthodox population here. Yesh Atid’s miraculous spark in Israeli politics, was actually brought upon carried by waves of hatred towards that community. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot should be amended in the ultra-orthodox population, such as women segregation, racism and homophobia. But I think that they are not the sole carriers of those diseases and certainly not the only population to blame.
 
In the same article, you said “I do get angry when women’s pain is being cynically used in the war between secular men and religious men over power.” How does the women’s movement plan to work the parliament?
Recent negotiations for coalition assembly demonstrated the complexity of the situation the women’s movement is in these days. On the one hand, new Knesset is welcoming an unprecedented number of women: 27 women Parliament members are elected in this administration. On the other hand, I wish I could say that this changed anything within the administration.
 
Take Nathan Eshel for example, Binyamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, who was recently forced to resign his position due to sexual harassment accusation. Eshel is still very much involved behind the scenes and was asked by Netanyahu to take the lead and be in charge of the coalition building negotiations. Women’s organizations protested and he was removed from position again, but I doubt if Natanyahu’s administration gets why.
 
Second example is former Knesset member Haim Ramon, Zipi Livni’s confidant. Ramon was accused and convicted in sexual assault and was banned from public office in 2009. He too is still very much involved in this administration, and as Livni’s right hand, he is in charge of the coalition negotiations on her behalf.
 
On the one hand an unprecedented number of women were elected to public office, but on the other hand we still live in an administration that values sex offenders and considers them fit to public office.
 
On 22 January, there was the 19th election in the Israeli Parliament, Knesset. As the director of an LGBT organization, Jerusalem Open House, how do you interpret the results for the rights of LGBTs and women?
Not very optimistic, I’m afraid. In the entire Israeli judicial history not a single pro-LGBTQ law was created by Knesset. Not even one. All of the privileges we enjoy nowadays were won via the Supreme Court after petitioning. I may be cynical but I don’t see this changes in the near future.
 
People seem excited about the central and liberal Yesh Atid Party which got 19 seats, despite their establishment only a year ago. What excites people? But more importantly, does it excite you?
I think the excitement around Yesh Atid is coming from the hope that Yair Lapid will present an alternative to Netanyahu. Now that coalition negotiations started and it became clear that Yesh Atid will join the coalition, it is becoming apparent that no new agenda will come of this. No surprises here.
 
Yesh Atid rises as a middle class party, mainly secular and Jewish. It’s campaign preaches to equal burden is -to my humble opinion- another example of racism and xenophobia. "Equal Burden" means the restlessness amongst Jewish middle class regarding the Arab and ultra-orthodox populations and needs.
 
There are 12 political parties in total that passed the threshold. There are religious fundamentalists, ultra-nationalists, Arabs… What do you think can be expected from this parliament for the rights of Palestinians?
12 political parties in the Israeli Knesset and, still, it does not represent the Israeli demographics. It is important to remember that both the Jewish ultra-orthodox and the Israeli Arab populations are widely boycotting the elections and the Zionist state. They do not take part in the democratic game and therefore are not represented. Israeli democracy, therefore, is mirroring mainly it’s Jewish population, and not all of it.
 
In this situation, I find it hard to believe a break through in the peace process will occur in the near future.
 
“The Jewish Home” Party’s leader Naftali Bennett recently refused speaking with the gay Orthodox groups, saying there were more important issues to deal with. Where does the pinkwashing start and end for Israel’s nationalists?
I was invited earlier this month to a meeting between LGBTQ leaders and Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin, right wing extremist who created an organization protesting against the "softness of the settlements leadership" back in 1992 is now a member of Likud, which is Netanyahu’s party. During the elections, he declared he was a "proud homophobe" and represented the electorate Netanyahu wishes to hide from the global community: Racist against Arabs, even more extreme than the settlement leadership and hostile towards queers. Needless to say, I refused attending the meeting and kept myself out of it.
 
The Bennetts of the Israeli administration do not bother me. They are entitled to their opinion and even entitled to their discomfort around LGBTQ people. The Feiglins are those who really bother me: Proud homophobes who campaign on hatred and then come to LGBTQ centers to speak. They frighten me.
 
Israeli Arab parliamentarian Haneen Zoabi was disqualified from the elections for “supporting terrorism and rejecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state". What happened to her later on?  
Not surprisingly, Israeli Supreme Court over-ruled elections committee disqualification of Zoabi, saying it is anti-democratic. It is important to note that the disqualification came after a Likud member Ophir Fines requested it. You may call me a conspiracy paranoid but I think this whole move of disqualification and then over-ruling of it was never intended to harm Zoabi but rather the Supreme Court.
 

This move continues the wave of anti-democratic legislation from last year, targeting the Supreme Court. Orchestrated by Likud, an attack on Supreme Court is at large. The goal is to portrait it as Arab-loving, left wing establishment who interferes with legislative work. It was clear all along that Supreme Court will allow Zoabi’s candidacy, there was no real other option. But forcing it to rule in that case painted Supreme Court, and not for the first time, as overstepping it’s boundaries and exceeding it’s powers. The public criticism against it contributes to undermining the foundation of Israeli democracy. 

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