A Place Among Us

The Equality Forum should be commended for featuring Israel, a nation that is seen as one of the world's most progressive when it comes to respecting the civil rights of gays and lesbians. By highlighting Israel during the 20th annual forum for LGBT activists and supporters over the weekend, the group managed simultaneously to take a bold stand, showcase Israeli culture and instill a new source of pride for American Jews.

At a time when gay issues are continuing to roil American politics — when Vice President Joe Biden creates a brouhaha by stepping out in front of the president on supporting gay marriage and states like North Carolina are holding referendums that, substance aside, inevitably inspire gay bashing in the public sphere — the focus on Israel at the Equality Forum also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own community's record.

"Israel serves as a lesson to others about respecting individual freedom and liberties in a land steeped in tradition," Daniel Kutner, Israel's consul general in Philadelphia, was quoted as saying.

Despite attempts by a few pro-Palestinian agitators to boycott the gathering, the summit went off smoothly. It was hypocritical for these activists, purported to be concerned with human rights, to protest against Israel on this issue, especially given the fear and secrecy with which most gay Palestinians live. Their charge that Israel respects gay rights merely as a ruse for its alleged violations of Palestinian rights is ludicrous. The sad fact is that Israel's detractors will stop at nothing to cast a negative light on the Jewish state. A similar group protested outside a Jewish National Fund event in March, prompting the joke: "They're against trees?"

Israel's record on gay rights issues should be a guiding light both for the world and for the United States. Israelis, like American Jews, are not monolithic on these issues. The Orthodox establishment, both there and here, often opposes legal and legislative remedies to further these rights. The opposition to homosexuality among many, but not all, Orthodox Jews, stems from the biblical injunction against gay relations. Still, in Israel, where religious views wield significant sway over policy and gay rights activists encounter plenty of obstacles, there is a recognition of basic rights for gays and lesbians, as it should be in a pluralistic, democratic society.

Likewise, most American Jews support the legal and political advances in recent years, including rescinding the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of gays in the military.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are efforts under way in our synagogues, educational institutions and other community bodies to be more inclusive and welcoming to LGBT Jews.

With the Equality Forum now over and the spotlight on Israel gone, it's time to reflect more closely on what more we as a community need to be doing to ensure that LGBT Jews can find their place among us.



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