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The abandonment of Israel by LGBT groups is hypocritical and cruel

(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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Biden Administration Urges Israel to Tone Down Response to Hezbollah Aggression in Bid to Avert Wider Conflict

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Biden administration has been pushing the Israeli government to de-escalate hostilities with Hezbollah to prevent a full-scale war from breaking out along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the powerful Iran-backed terrorist group wields significant political and military influence.

In Israel’s north, Hezbollah terrorists have been firing rockets at Israel daily from southern Lebanon since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, leading Israeli forces to strike back. Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Gaza — the Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas, another Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, to Israel’s south — could escalate into a regional conflict.

More than 80,000 Israelis evacuated Israel’s north in October and have since been unable to return to their homes. The majority of those spent the past eight months residing in hotels in safer areas of the country. The mass displacement has ramped up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a swift resolution to the situation.

The ongoing conflict between both sides escalated on Tuesday when senior Hezbollah commander Taleb Sami Abdullah was killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah responded by launching over 200 missiles into northern Israel. 

During Abdullah’s funeral, senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine vowed that the terrorist group would intensify its strikes on Israel. 

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” Saffieddine said. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

In Israel, meanwhile, officials have said they prefer a diplomatic solution to the current crisis but are prepared to escalate military action to push Hezbollah back from the border in order to allow internally displaced Israelis to return home. Polling has shown that the majority of the Israeli public wants the military to engage in expanded actions against the Lebanese terrorist group, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Biden administration has been advising Netanyahu against pursuing the idea of a “limited war” against Hezbollah, arguing that it could spark a regional war throughout the Middle East. According to multiple reports, US officials have warned Israel that Iran could dispatch militants from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into Lebanon to bolster Hezbollah’s effort.

The White House has also expressed concern  that Israeli officials do not have a clear strategy on how to keep the war contained to solely Lebanon. Fear of a broader regional war has intensified the Biden administration’s urgency to finalize a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which launched the ongoing war in Gaza by slaughtering over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel and kidnapping more than 250 others on Oct. 7.

“We are concerned about an increase in activity in the north. We don’t want this to escalate to a broad regional conflict and we urge de-escalation,” a Pentagon spokesperson told reporters this week.

The Pentagon also released a statement saying that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed efforts to “de-escalate tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border in the wake of Lebanese Hezbollah’s increased aggression.”

According to multiple reports, Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden for energy and investment, will head to Israel on Monday in an effort to temper tensions between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. Hochstein will meet with Netanyahu and Gallant with the goal of swaying them against green-lighting a “limited ground invasion” in Lebanon. Hochstein will reportedly also journey to Beirut to conduct discussions with Lebanese officials.

“There was a lot of work, diplomatic work done behind the scenes by several folks in the US administration, working with regional powers and our allies to try and tamp this down,” Hochstein has said regarding the prospect of a regional war erupting in the Middle East.

Hochstein argued that preventing a large-scale war between Israel and Lebanon requires “active engagement” with both parties and for the public of both countries to “understand the risks” of further escalation. He added that “despite the bravado talk” coming from government officials, Lebanese people do not to go to war with Israel.

“The bottom line is a lot of civilians will die,” Hochstein said.

Despite chest-thumping by Hezbollah leaders, experts believe that the elimination of Abdullah might cause Hezbollah to exercise caution in engaging further with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The powerful elimination worries Hezbollah members. They now understand that the IDF knows much more about them than we do,” Professor Amatzia Baram told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, the operation indicates that Hezbollah’s field security is not airtight and that the organization’s intelligence system has been penetrated to such an extent that we were able to eliminate such an important sector commander. The IDF managed to infiltrate their networks and systems and identify the right people for elimination.”

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Iranian Court Sentences Woman to 18 Years in Prison for Supporting Israel

Iranian protesters carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a Yemeni flag as they burn an Israeli flag during an anti-US and anti-British protest in front of the British embassy in downtown Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. Photo: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Reuters Connect

Fatemeh Sepehri, a prominent Iranian dissident and political prisoner, has been sentenced to an additional 18 and a half years in prison after she publicly expressed support for Israel.

The harsh prison sentence appeared to be at least partly in response to a video clip released on Oct. 16 from Ghaem Hospital in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad in which Sepehri, who suffers from a heart ailment, condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Hamas is backed by the Iranian regime, which provides the Palestinian terror group in Gaza with funding, weapons, and training.

“I emphatically declare that the Iranian nation stands in solidarity with the people of Israel,” she said. “I hope [Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks] closes the Islamic Republic’s chapter in history.”


For 45 years, Iranian women have tirelessly battled for their rights, freedom, and advancement. Among them, Fatemeh Sepehri has boldly challenged the ideals of the Islamic Republic. NUFDI proudly awards her the 2024 Humanitarian Award.

— سه خط طلا (@misanthropgirl) March 19, 2024

Although Fatimeh’s court records are unavailable to the public, her brother Asghar Sepehri tweeted details about the sentence. According to her sibling, Fatimeh was sentenced earlier this month by a judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Mashhad to seven years for supporting Israel, another seven years for conspiring against internal security, three years for insulting Iran’s so-called “supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one year and six months for propaganda against the Islamist regime.

Iran’s rulers regularly call for the destruction of Israel, often referring to the Jewish state as a “cancerous tumor” or “the Zionist entity.”

Sepehri was originally arrested in Sept. 2022 following the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked nationwide protests against the ruling Islamist regime on an unprecedented scale.

Sepehri’s pro-Israel video was posted after she was temporary released from prison to undergo open-heart surgery. According to her family, Sepehri has been subjected to intense “psychological torture” while in prison. Her brothers, Mohammad-Hossein and Hossein, have also received severe sentences for similar charges: eight years and two years and 11 months, respectively.

In the past, Sepehri has been an outspoken critic of Khamenei and the Islamic Republic more broadly. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported in 2021 that Sepehri said on video that she hoped to see the day when Khamenei would be dragged through the streets and killed like Libya’s late ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Days after Sepehri received her sentence, Iran released political prisoner Louis Arnaud, a French citizen, on Thursday. Arnaud was arrested in Sept. 2022 as anti-government protests were erupting across Iran. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after Arnaud’s release, “Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran.”

Louis Arnaut is greeted by Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at Paris’ Le Bourget Airport following his release from Iran. Photo: Screenshot

Three French nationals remain imprisoned in Iran as political prisoners. French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné posted on social media that securing their release remains a top priority.

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Former ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Star Patricia Heaton: Every Human Being Should Be Against Antisemitism

One of the billboards erected in partnership between JewBelong and O7C. Photo: Instagram

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton said this week that following the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, it should be a “natural” reaction among all humans to want to combat antisemitism, as well as support the Jewish people and Israel’s right to exist.

The “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Middle” star, who is a devout Catholic, made the comments during her guest appearance on the NewsNation show “CUOMO,” where she also advocated for Christians to voice solidarity with Jews and Israel after Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 250 hostages during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Heaton began by telling host Chris Cuomo that after the Oct. 7 atrocities, she was “confused by the lack of outcry from the churches.”

“I even posted on Instagram, ‘Did you ever have that thought that if you were in Germany during World War II, you hoped that you would be that good German that helped to hide your Jewish neighbors? Well, today you have that opportunity,’” she added.

Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton founded a nonprofit called the Oct. 7 Coalition (O7C) to urge Christians to be visibly outspoken against antisemitism, and in support of Jews and Israel’s right to exist. Heaton’s O7C has since teamed up with the nonprofit JewBelong to launch a nationwide billboard campaign to raise awareness about antisemitism in the US.

Talking about why she wanted to get involved in rallying support for Israel and Jewish communities facing a rise in antisemitism in the US since the Oct. 7 attacks, Heaton said, “I think if you’re a human being, that should be your natural response to what we saw.” When asked about how people in the entertainment industry have reacted to her avid pro-Israel stance, she said Jewish friends in the business have called her “brave and courageous.”

“[But] I just think this is just a normal human reaction,” she said. “I have heard ‘We have projects we have to promote. We don’t want to bring politics into it.’ I guess if someone spent 50 or 100 million on a movie, they don’t want to introduce this subject matter and I guess you can understand that. But generally speaking I think Hollywood could do more to support our Jewish community.”

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