National Commentary

Anything But Straight: Israel’s Tragic Miscalculation

The Israeli Knesset is about to make a tragic mistake with far reaching consequences if it votes to ban Gay Pride rallies. This anti-democratic action will alienate secular Jews – gay and straight – worldwide and force stalwart defenders of Israel to rethink their allegiance. American Jews overwhelmingly reject the intolerance of our homegrown Christian Right, so the notion that we will blindly support Jewish Pat Robertsons in Jerusalem is a dangerous miscalculation.

Recently, the Knesset proposed one amendment that would empower the Jerusalem mayor to prohibit Gay Pride and other parades based on religious sensitivities or alleged threats to public order. A first reading of this bill passed 40-23. In a second, more far-reaching bill, the Shas Party called for a ban on all pride parades throughout the country. This measure – which threatens freedom of speech and assembly – was approved by a vote of 41-21.

According to Ynet News, final passage of the bills requires two more votes – which are unlikely to come prior to the June 21 Pride march in Jerusalem. Last year, authorities did not sanction the rally, claiming that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of Pride marchers. The event was finally moved to an alternative, secured indoor location after right-wing zealots threatened participants.

This year, march organizers again have been met with threats of violence and intimidation by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who seem like Jewish versions of Fred Phelps. One extremist group even put a hex on would-be participants and the police.

"To all those involved, sinners in spirit, and whoever helps and protects them, may they feel a curse on their souls, may it plague them, and may evil pursue them; they will not be [acquitted] of their transgressions from heavenly judgment," reads the curse from Eda Haredit rabbis.

Unfortunately, the actions of the Bush administration may have emboldened Israel’s religious right and offered a fundamental misreading of American Jewry. The President has created a dangerous marriage between conservative Jews and the Rapture Right, who want to usher in the Second Coming. The point man for this unholy alliance is Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, leader of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The Rabbi recently referred to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell as a “mild mannered and wonderful person.”

Israel’s real power base in America, however, does not come from the outspoken Rabbi Eckstein, but from the quiet majority of moderately religious or secular Jews. Many attend synagogue. Some don’t. Others follow kosher diets, while some eat bacon without so much as a pang of guilt. The Israeli right probably would not even consider them real Jews.

Still, American Jews, like myself, have long defended Israel’s right to exist in bars, campus protests, over office water coolers and on talk radio programs. Without fanfare, we have battled against Anti-Semitism in rural America – sometimes with our fists. We have challenged misconceptions and fought stereotypes and in the process brought support and understanding for Israel.

Most of us would like to see peace, including a Palestinian state – but not at the expense of security. However, we fervently reject Messianic Jews that believe God intended for Israel to have all of the land. To us, this sounds very similar to extremists in Saudi Arabia who say God forbids “infidels” from intruding on Muslim lands.

To the secular majority, Israel is an emotional home, as well as an insurance policy. Each time we see an up tick of Anti-Semitism in Europe or America, we thank God for the existence of Israel. But most of all, we see the Jewish State as an oasis of liberty and hope in the Middle East. It is a nation where there are elections, a free media, and where people openly debate key issues.

Continued support, however, is contingent on Israel remaining a modern nation that respects human rights, diversity and religious freedom. If the ultra-Orthodox think for one second that American and European Jews have any intention of supporting the Jewish version of Iran, they’ve got another thing coming. It is inexcusable that people, who have felt the sting of persecution, now mimic the tyrants who drove them to the shelter of Israel.

While the Knesset humiliated itself debating this draconian measure, an estimated three million people celebrated Gay Pride in Brazil. Perhaps, my Israeli “insurance policy” has expired, as I now feel safer in Sao Paulo than Jerusalem. If Israeli conservatives ultimately pass these bills, they may relish their small-minded victory, but they are about to find out what a small minority they truly are. If I can’t march at Pride, maybe it is time for people like me to march on.