(June 11, 2019 / JNS) Only in Israel can you be gay, a government minister and—most revolutionary of all—right wing. This new, good kind of “intersectionality” is a strong indication that we are not merely “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but one of the most advanced democracies in the world.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, 43, dedicated his new cabinet post to his partner, “the love of [his] life,” and to their two beautiful children. As the first openly gay minister in the State of Israel, Ohana’s name has already gone down in history.
Upon formally accepting the post, he said: “As a Jew, as an Israeli, as a Mizrachi, as a Likudnik, as a Beersheva native, as a liberal and as a lawyer who has spent thousands of hours in court, it is a great honor to serve Israel in the role of justice minister.”
However, he has not been welcomed by everyone. Last Thursday, Ohana—a staunch Netanyahu ally—participated in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, where instead of being met with cheers, he was booed down, with parade participants shouting “shame, shame.”
This attitude that the struggle for gay rights is exlusively a left-wing one is shared by the famous—and stupid—”pinkwashing” accusation leveled against Israel by left-leaning gay movements and the Arab world.
Israel’s tolerant laws and open attitude vis-à-vis the LGBT community, which happen to be among the most advanced in the world, are presented by the “pinkwashing” crowd as cynical cover for Israel’s supposed sins against the Palestinians and violation of their human rights. (This of course does not prevent gay Palestinians and other Arabs and even Iranians from seeking refuge in Israel from the cruel and even deadly persecution they face in their home territories.)
Ohana, who was born in the southern Israel city of Beersheva to a Moroccan family, came out of the closet at age 15. The courage he displayed then has stood him in good stead since, whether in the defense of Israel or just being a conservative in an intolerant liberal environment.
Netanyahu is arranging his interim government in the run-up to Israel’s September 17 elections. Ohana’s appointment will last at least until November, which means Netanyahu can count on a faithful justice minister in a decidedly difficult period for him given his legal troubles.
Ohana replaces Ayelet Shaked in the post, a brilliant woman who earlier this year helped establish the small New Right Party, which failed to make it into the Knesset. While she could have many surprises in store for the future, Netanyahu has sent her (and others) home for now, leaving cabinet posts open for Likud members.
The way to the September elections is winding and rocky, despite the fact that polls are already promising Netanayhu yet another victory.
Netanyahu’s absence from the scene comes at a very delicate moment, so much so that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed uncertainty regarding the timetable of his Mideast peace deal, while enemies of Israel such as Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the Palestinians, of course, are making the rattling of of their sabres more deafening than usual, both from the north in Syria and from the south in Gaza.
Nevertheless, it augurs well for the vitality of the Israeli democracy that a gay man born to Moroccan parents in Beersheva, in a country plagued by war, has been able to study what he wanted, marry the partner he wanted, become an important politician—and even opt to be a conservative. This is freedom!
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.