By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/JNS.org
“I am here as the son of Meir and Esther Ohana, who emigrated from Morocco to build a country. I am here with my other half, Alon, my true love. I am here as the father of the children Elah and David. And like [the biblical] David who defeated Goliath in the Valley of Elah, I am here against all the odds. I am here with all of who I am and what I am, what I’ve chosen and what I haven’t, and am proud of it all: Jewish, Israeli, Mizrahi, gay, Likudnik, a security hawk, a liberal, and a man of the free market,” Member of Knesset Amir Ohana said Dec. 28, delivering a powerful speech upon his induction as the first openly gay MK in the center-right Likud political party and the second in the current 120-member Israeli legislature.
Ohana’s message—that “I am not only gay; I have more to give”—is one he is hoping many others in Israel will quickly internalize.
At 39, Ohana is tall with deep brown eyes, and a build that lets you know he’s a major in the Israeli army reserves as well as a former member of the Shin Bet security service.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, days after his Knesset inauguration, Ohana welcomed this reporter from JNS.org into his high-rise apartment (21st floor) in Tel Aviv. Nanny Adina Sharabi was fussing with Ohana’s 4-and-a-half-month-old twins, who he and partner Alon Hadad adopted earlier in 2015 through a surrogate mother in Oregon. Coffee cake rested on the table, with a newly soiled plate with crumbs alongside it. Oversized mutt Guri, black and sleek, was frantically sniffing the guest.
Ohana’s path to the present started 24 years ago in his politically and culturally conservative hometown of Beersheba, when he came out as gay—first to his friends, then to his sister, and finally to his parents.
“I had no problem with myself,” Ohana told JNS.org. “Then I met the real world, and in the real world, which is not perfect, being gay has meaning.”
Though he said the announcement of his sexual orientation deterred a friend or two, including one who stopped talking to him for years until he himself came out as gay, Ohana never let judgment or stigma stop him for pursuing his goals. He achieved top ranks in the army and joined the security service. When he met his partner 11 years ago in a popular Tel Aviv bar, they started living together shortly thereafter.
It was in 2011 that Ohana and Hadad decided to bring some of their LGBT friends together to launch a politically right-wing LGBT caucus in the Knesset. At that time, says Ohana, “Most of them were in the closet—not the LGBT closet, the political closet.” It was unusual, he said, to find an LGBT individual who didn’t identify (at least openly) with Israel’s left-wing political parities. But he knew this was a façade, and that there were many others like him.
The group opted to join Likud as its first-ever gay caucus, mostly because Likud has primaries and they knew that as their contingency grew, they would have a chance to gain greater political power and create change.
“One of the nice things with Likud is that MKs are in very direct contact with the members, so we almost immediately had meetings with the ministers and the MKs,” Ohana said. “You could say we got a very warm hug from the Likud.”
Ohana ran in the Likud primaries, winning the Tel Aviv district seat on Dec. 31, 2014. He still remembers that first call from Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “He called me and congratulated me and said, ‘We need you in Knesset.’”
Ohana never expected to have his chance so quickly. But when Likud MK and interior minister Silvan Shalom resigned Dec. 20 amid numerous complaints of sexual harassment, Ohana was next in line.
“Now that I am an MK, I represent all the Israeli citizens, so I have to do what I think is most important for Israel—and in Israel that is to deal with security issues—the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Ohana said.
Ohana is a self-proclaimed “hawk” on security issues. He opposes a two-state solution. In a 15-minute soliloquy about his security stance, he makes clear that while the Arabs are welcome to stay in their homes in Israel, Israel is the Jewish state—all of Israel, including Judea and Samaria.
“Judea and Samaria are more the land of Israel than Tel Aviv and Herzliya,” Ohana told JNS.org. “If you check, you’ll find that more than 90 percent of the places that are mentioned in the bible as the Land of Israel are in Judea and Samaria. I am not a religious person. I don’t say this because I think this land is ours by divine promise. I say it because it is historically and culturally correct.”
Ohana doesn’t believe that the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah faction (not to mention the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group) is a partner for peace with Israel. Fatah, he said, has a plan to “step-by-step destroy the Zionist dream for the Jewish people, a people who has just one state of their own, the land of Israel….Let them have their other 22 states.”
Ohana has strong opinions on LGBT rights, too—and in that respect, also, he is proud of his Jewish homeland. While he admits that Israel should move toward civil marriage laws rather than the current process administered by the Chief Rabbinate, something he hopes to promote during his time in the Knesset, he boasts that Israel has had openly gay members of the army since 1994. Though the country does not allow gays to legally marry or to use surrogate mothers, Israel recognizes gay unions that were performed out of state.
Does Ohana think he can create change quickly in this regard? That’s unlikely, he said, because with Israel’s narrow 61-seat governing coalition, “things that are not a consensus in the coalition are very difficult to promote.” That coalition is largely made up of haredi Knesset members, many of whom stayed away from Ohana’s inauguration on principle.
Nevertheless, Ohana’s partner, Hadad, is counting on him to be the best MK he can be. Hadad told JNS.org, “I think he will make a very good MK, because he is very smart and honest and a good presenter. He’s a people person. This is good for everyone, for Israel—but probably not for me.”
Balancing twins Elah and David when Ohana works late is tough on Hadad, who praises their nanny, Sharabi, and admits he may need to hire an evening nanny as well.
But as a proud Likudnik since the age of 6, Hadad says he is living vicariously through his partner.
“Yesterday, one of our friends wrote on Facebook, ‘I got a call from an MK.’ He got a call from Amir, and he was so proud. When I see he calls me, I am also proud,” Hadad said. “I think for him this is the best job.”
In Ohana’s mind, 2015 was his year—the year he won in the primaries, the year Likud took 30 seats in the government, the year he and Hadad got their babies, and the year he made it into the Knesset. It “was a very special year for me,” says Ohana, nodding with satisfaction that 2016 will be a productive year, too.
Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.