As Israel prepares for new elections, the LGBTQ community is in danger
Israel’s government has collapsed – and the county is heading for new elections for the fifth time in three years. In this new period of uncertainty, Israel’s LGBTQ community is of particular concern. Any new coalition would likely welcome parties that oppose LGBTQ inclusion in government, which poses a clear and imminent threat to their human rights.
But amid this apprehension, there is still much to celebrate: 30 LGBTQ leaders from the United States met their counterparts in Israel this month. The backdrop was the Tel Aviv Pride, one of the largest in the world. The leaders were there for more than celebrations. They came to learn. As on previous A Wider Bridge trips, North Americans traveling to Israel and Israelis traveling to North America shared strategies to build LGBTQ inclusion, fight conversion therapy, protect young people in need of shelter and create vibrant centers of pride. Pride celebrations have started in the United States and will take place in more than 60 Israeli cities this month. Over the years, our two countries have imported many successful approaches from each other. But one American import to Israel is less than welcome: political transphobia. Let’s not let it become something that unites our nations.
As leaders of groups in Israel and the United States, we have watched with sadness as trans children in America have been put at risk by legislation making their medical care less available and prohibiting their teachers and school counselors from providing the vital support they need. And it turns out that the same retrograde forces fighting trans inclusion in the United States are supporting similar efforts in Israel. There has always been opposition to LGBTQ rights, including trans inclusion in both countries and around the world. What’s new is a largely well-funded campaign – with plenty of American support – aimed at attacking the Israeli trans community. While the fight for LGBTQ equality in Israel has not been easy, historically the community has not been used as a political cudgel. This is changing, and we are sounding the alarm.
Groups like the Kohelet Forum, which is largely funded by the United States, are trying to spread their American brand of anti-trans hate in Israel. While think tanks and political boutiques are not a new phenomenon in Israel, Kohelet has embraced the broader American model of political change. They launched a constellation of organizations working together informally to usher in transformational policy change. With support from Kohelet and others, the anti-trans movement exploded in Israel.
Their orchestrated effort comes at a very unfortunate time. Ma’avarim, Israel’s largest trans organization, and the entire Israeli trans community have worked tirelessly for years, building careful relationships, educating important allies – and making tremendous progress through an Israeli government that was willing to embrace many key objectives. There are historic opportunities to implement vital new policies, including access to health care, legal recognition of gender identity, and diversity in the education system. All of this is now in jeopardy. Even as these successes materialize, the anti-trans movement is using social media and other tactics to spread misinformation and false accusations such as “men in dresses raping women in bathrooms.” These fabrications are felt by many in the trans community to be anti-Semitic blood libels – made-up stories that lead to fear, hatred and even violence. They help fuel anti-trans advocacy and lobbying to advance exclusionary policies and legislation aimed at stripping Israeli transgender people of their dignity and rights.
The new anti-trans movement has several particularities that call for new responses. First, unlike the traditional opposition for LGBTQ rights that emanates from religious and social conservatives, anti-trans advocacy is now often led by self-proclaimed “progressive” women. They bring with them established connections within liberal circles. Second, the central arena of the “progressive” anti-trans campaign is both traditional and social media – building on existing networks with hundreds of thousands of followers, while grassroots trans organizations have a presence. minimal in social media beyond the trans community. Third, funding for anti-trans campaigns dwarfs the budgets of LGBTQ organizations. In Israel alone, groups fighting against the trans community have budgets in the tens of millions with hundreds of paid staff, many of whom work on anti-trans campaigns.
None of us should sit idly by while these attacks on the trans community take place. As in other countries, this anti-trans hate movement poses an immediate threat to the safety and well-being of trans and gender non-conforming people. We cannot allow them to have their very existence denied.
But it does not stop there. While transgender people are the immediate targets of hatred and violence, anti-trans campaigns have far-reaching political goals: to split the liberal women’s, LGBTQ and minority rights bloc, instill hatred and return liberal democratic societies against a newly created enemy from within. . Anti-trans propaganda has proven instrumental in spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories that further undermine democratic values in society.
The eyes of the world often turn to Israel on LGBTQ rights. Dana International, a trans woman from Tel Aviv, won the Eurovision music competition, became an international hero and played a role in promoting greater acceptance of the trans community.
The world will be watching after the new elections in Israel: will they continue to make progress in granting rights and protections to LGBTQ people? Or will they go back in time? Now more than ever, fighting the anti-trans movement must be a top priority not only for the transgender community, but also for LGBTQ people, feminists, and the broader progressive community in Israel and the United States. .
Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that fights for LGBTQ inclusion, challenges anti-Semitism, and strengthens relationships between the LGBTQ community in Israel and North America. Elisha Alexander is the founding director of Ma’avarim, Israel’s leading NGO advocating for the transgender community.