A speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset yesterday will—but shouldn’t— be ignored by all those who claim to be concerned about the new government’s tolerance of minorities.
Supporting Amir Ohana, the legislature’s speaker, against attacks on him because he’s gay, Netanyahu said from the podium that “every person is made in the image of God. This is the basic principle that has been brought to humanity thousands of years ago by our nation, and it is the basic principle which guides us as well today.”
Those who see Israel’s new government as “racist” and “homophobic” often prefer not to be confused by the facts—facts being what the government actually does, as distinguished from what some who support it may say. The government’s categorical rejection of discrimination against the gay community is, sadly, yet another set of facts that most progressives would prefer not to know about, because it makes it harder for them to continue their attacks on the Jewish state.
That rejection of anti-gay discrimination was first expressed by deed, not words when the new administration gave leadership of the Knesset to Amir Ohana, a gay member of Likud who has served in previous Netanyahu administrations. Note that this was not merely an appointment by one man: it was an appointment approved and voted for by the entire incoming coalition. That means that the haredi members of the coalition all raised their hands and said “aye” to the appointment of this gay man to a first-rank position of prominence and power in the new Israeli government.
Those leftists who prefer to see Israel as in thrall to religious fanatics and other right-wing lunatics of course ignored this appointment. One person who did not ignore it was Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Amar attacked not only Ohana, for living contrary to the dictates of halakha, but the entire haredi membership in Netanyahu’s coalition, whom he accused of violating their obligation to the Torah by supporting this appointment.
Rabbi Amar has a point, though not the one he thinks. The haredi members of the governing coalition did indeed vote for something they disagree with deeply. But of course what’s really going on is the miracle of democratic government, defined long ago by James Madison in Federalist No. 10, which leads groups that disagree with one another about many things to settle their differences through the horse-trading that defines the real world of politics.
But there’s something else happening here, and it would be proudly embraced by the Solons of the political left if they weren’t blinded by their own ideology. And that is the miracle of the new government’s achievement. Yes, Israel has a gay speaker of its legislature. No major Western country that I’m aware of can boast that degree of official open-mindedness. But the new administration’s defense of tolerance goes much further than that, because it has forced, or persuaded, or led, people who disagree with this view, people whose religious views are probably indistinguishable from Rabbi Amar’s, to support that very tolerance.
That’s what real political leadership looks like: It takes the sausage-making of politics and puts it in the service of ideals. The ideal on Netanyahu’s lips—and in the government’s hands—today is that of mutual respect for all people, including especially Israel’s gay minority.
Those who truly want peace in the Middle East know to honor the Abraham Accords because they have led, and will lead, to real peace, while those who simply hate the Jewish state ignore that great achievement because it doesn’t fit with their worldview.
The same holds true for the domestic achievements of Israel’s democracy. Israel’s tolerance of minorities is unequaled by any other Middle Eastern country and unsurpassed by any nation in the world. The appointment of a gay man as the leader of its legislature is only the most recent proof of this. Those who wish to know the truth will see this and recognize its significance.
There will always be those who refuse to accept the truth about the Jewish state, but we can hope that their number will diminish as Israel’s achievements, and those of this new government, continue to grow in number and in power.
Jerome M. Marcus is a lawyer and a fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.