Caroline Esser, Washington Note - The newest way to sell Israel to Americans: LGBT rights. Search gay rights on the Anti-Defamation League’s website and what do you find? A ready-to-print and available for order poster that reads, “Which of the Middle East nations protects the legal rights, safety & freedom of the LGBT communities? Only Israel.” At the bottom of the poster, in smaller font, it states, “Israel is by far the most democratic state in the entire Middle East. It supports civil rights for all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, creed & religion. Dialogue begins when it’s based on facts“.
Likewise, scan The Jewish Federations of North America’s site and you will find a series of press releases about its recent “LGBT Pride in Israel Mission.” A novel way of persuading young activists to join the pro-Israel forces, the mission brought hundreds of members of North America’s LGBT community to Israel. The trip was specifically designed to expose North Americans to the vibrant LGBT culture in the Jewish homeland and to help them “forge ties with [their] brethren in Israel”.
Israel advocacy groups like the ADL and the Jewish Federations have latched on to LGBT rights in Israel as a means of combating negative press and demonstrating Israel’s dedication to equal rights and democracy. It is a logical issue to showcase since, in many ways, Israel is far ahead of the United States in terms of LGBT rights. For instance, while the United States only repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last December, Israel has allowed openly gay men and women to serve in the military since 1983 and it has not imposed any restrictions on their placement within the military since 1993. Israel is also one of the few countries around the world that has granted legal recognition to same-sex couples with regards to property tax benefits, inheritance taxes, and housing aid; recognized same-sex adoptive parents; and registered the marriages of same-sex couples who were married outside of Israel.