(JTA) — For more than 30 years, I have stood on the frontlines and been an outspoken leader for LGBT people and families. I have been called every name in the book, my life has been threatened because of my being gay, the police insisted on installing a panic button in my house because of these threats. But that hasn’t stopped the organizing work that I continue to do to bring safety and peace to the LGBT community.
And yet, there’s been times when I’m at LGBT events, where the safety that should be a given quickly dissipates because I am Jewish as well. There are unfortunately countless examples, but one that I will never forget is the protest that occurred at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference I attended in Chicago in 2016. The protest was organized by pro-Palestinian activists who accused A Wider Bridge, a Jewish LGBTQ organization, of “pinkwashing” Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
As I was getting off the escalator to attend a reception hosted by A Wider Bridge, which featured members of Jerusalem Open House, a gay rights group from Israel, and excited about celebrating my pride as a Jew, I saw a throng of angry protesters disrupting the event. The protesters blocked the entrance to the conference hall, chanted slogans such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Zionism’s gotta go” and took over the stage, preventing the Israelis from speaking. I was both horrified and fearful. Horrified that a disgraceful authoritarian act like this could happen at an LGBT gathering about creating change for equality and justice and fearful that if I even attempted to make my way through that blockade I would be physically hurt by members of my own community, simply for being a Jew.
I recalled that fear on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, a day of unprecedented bloodshed in Israel’s history. It all began on a Jewish holiday morning when hundreds of terrorists managed to break through the barrier separating Israel and Gaza. They spread out to more than 20 different locations, causing devastation. Tragically, they killed thousands of Israelis on the streets, in their homes and even at an outdoor music festival. They slaughtered whole families, killed children and babies in front of their parents, beheaded and burned bodies, and raped young women next to their friends’ dead bodies. They also took more than 200 people hostage and left thousands injured.
The terrorist attacks that killed the most Jews since the Holocaust was committed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip and whose mission is to destroy Israel and erase its people. It is a call for all in the LGBT community to speak up loudly and boldly in support of Israel. Hamas is an organization that imposes a harsh and intolerant version of Islamic law on Gaza, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. Hamas is an organization that persecutes, tortures and kills LGBT people, or forces them to flee for their lives. Hamas is an organization that denies LGBT people any rights, representation, or recognition.
And more than two weeks later, the silence from many prominent LGBT leaders and groups supporting Israel and condemning the Hamas terrorist attacks is deafening. Those that have made brief statements don’t even mention Hamas, skirt right past antisemitism or lump it in with other intersectional identities as false equivalencies and offer no support to LGBT Jews. It is yet another way to appease other identity groups through silencing LGBT Jewish voices and experiences. To make matters worse, some of these so-called LGBT leaders are protesting Israel and using antisemitic tropes that normalize antisemitism and alienate LGBT Jews. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with our movement in the fight for racial equity, trans rights, reproductive justice and many other issues, and the abandonment from these LGBT groups is both hypocritical and cruel.
Israel is a democracy and beacon of hope and freedom for LGBT people in the Middle East, a region where many countries criminalize and persecute us. Israel is the only country in the region that recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad, allows same-sex couples to adopt children, protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence, and allows us to serve openly in the military. Israel also has a vibrant and diverse LGBT culture, with Tel Aviv being one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, hosting an annual Pride parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of participants and visitors. It’s a place where we can be our authentic selves.
Israel’s support for LGBT rights is not a recent phenomenon but is a reflection of its democratic values and respect for human dignity. Israel decriminalized homosexuality in 1988, long before many European countries did. Israel’s Supreme Court has been instrumental in advancing LGBT rights, ruling in favor of recognition of same-sex marriages, parental rights, gender identity, and military service. Israel’s civil society and media have also played a role in raising awareness and acceptance of LGBT issues, with many prominent figures coming out as LGBT or expressing their solidarity. This is what we strive for and honor in the United States. Israel should be no different.
Israel’s LGBT community is not monolithic, but diverse and inclusive, representing different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and political views. Israel’s LGBT community includes Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Israel’s LGBT community also includes Palestinians who have fled from the oppression and violence they face in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. Israel provides us with shelter, medical care, legal aid and social support. This is what we honor in the United States. Israel should be no different.
Even democratic societies are imperfect, as I’m sure we can all agree having seen what has taken place throughout the United States these last few years. The onslaught of anti-LGBT bills and laws is frightening. And Israel’s support for LGBT rights is not without its own challenges and obstacles. Israel still does not allow same-sex marriages to be performed within its borders, due to the influence of religious authorities who control marriage laws.
But accusations that it uses its LGBT-friendly image as a tool to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or to impose its Western values on the region, are unfounded and unfair. Israel’s support for LGBT rights is a genuine expression of its identity and values. Israel does not seek to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries or impose its views on them. However, Israel also expects other countries to respect its right to do the same, and to refrain from violating the human rights of LGBT people.
The LGBT community should not be deceived by Hamas’s propaganda or manipulation. Hamas does not care about human rights or humanitarian issues. Hamas does not care about the Palestinians or their aspirations. Hamas only cares about its own power and ideology. Hamas uses the Palestinians as pawns, shields and victims in its war against Israel. Hamas exploits the LGBT community as tools and allies in its campaign against Israel.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The LGBT community and our leaders must take sides, call out evil and clearly stand up in support of Israel and all Jews at this critical time. As history reminds us, silence equals death.
We must remember our history as a LGBT community when gay men were branded with a pink triangle and sent to Nazi concentration camps to die. Whether we are Jewish or not, all LGBT people have a deep connection to Jewish people because it is a reminder of the shared history of oppression and resistance that both of our communities faced under the Nazi regime.
We cannot be silent today or ever. The LGBT community must speak up and stand with Israel in this war because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for Israel, as Israel is a country that stands with us in our struggle for justice and recognition. It is the right thing to do as Israel offers LGBT people freedom, equality, dignity and security. The LGBT community must support Israel in the war against Hamas because it is a matter of principle and survival.
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Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
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Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
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Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
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