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The ‘right’ kind of gay pride

Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is seen as a traitor by the LGBTQ community for being on the wrong side of the left.

Then-Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana attends the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 6, 2019. Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Then-Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana attends the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 6, 2019. Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

Israeli Public Security Minister Amir Ohana—a proud member of the LGBTQ community and equally proud member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party—has said that “being attracted to men doesn’t mean you have to believe in creating a Palestinian state.”

Ohana made that statement during an interview with The New York Times a year ago in June, when Netanyahu appointed him interim justice minister.

Ohana—a lawyer, a major in the reserves and a veteran of the Shin Bet—is hated by the left for the policies that he promotes and the bills that he has drafted. Among the latter is the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.

But it is Ohana’s view of judiciary overreach that has earned him the greatest wrath among his detractors. When he was first appointed justice minister, he made a statement to the effect that not all Supreme Court decisions should be honored.

In the wake of the ensuing uproar from the disingenuous “defenders of democracy”—those who don’t believe in the separation of powers as long as the judges that they deem politically correct are occupying the bench—Channel 12’s Amit Segal asked Ohana if he really meant what he had said.

“Yes,” Ohana answered, quipping, “the ‘supreme’ consideration must be to safeguard the lives of [Israeli] citizens.”

Nor did Ohana falter when Segal challenged him to contradict himself in relation to the Supreme Court’s liberalism towards gays is concerned. Ohana—who lives in Tel Aviv with his partner, Alon Hadad, and their two children—smiled and shook his head.

The most important strides in LGBTQ rights, he replied, were made in the Knesset—the legislative body, not in the courts. The point he was trying to drive home is that the business of enacting laws is the job of elected parliamentarians, not judges appointed by committees comprised of their cronies.

Following the interview, Ohana posted a clarification on social media, explaining that he had not intended to suggest that all regular court rulings should be disregarded, but rather those involving “extreme” cases.

“I have always [followed this credo], and it is what I believe,” he wrote. “Israel is a democracy under the banner of the rule of law, and such it will remain.”

Ohana’s worldview was sufficient impetus for crowds marching in last year’s Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem to boo, hiss and heckle him when he arrived to express solidarity with the cause.

Attacking members of a Netanyahu-led government is part and parcel of any left-wing gathering in the Jewish state. Ohana’s being gay didn’t shield him from the wrath of his peers, however. It still doesn’t. As far as they are concerned, by virtue of his being loyal to the Israeli flag, he necessarily is a traitor to the rainbow one.

This brings us to the mass demonstrations on Saturday night, held by a movement whose flag is neither blue-and-white nor multi-colored, but rather black.

The protests, which involved the blocking of dozens of key intersections across the country, were in response to the arrest on Friday afternoon of retired Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Haskel, a prominent activist in the radical anti-Netanyahu Black Flag movement, which had not received a permit from the Israel Police to stage the rally, was detained for being among hundreds of attendees blocking the streets and disturbing the peace of the residential Rechavia neighborhood.

As head of the ministry that oversees the police, Ohana came under heavy fire for the incident. Critics decried the “excessive force” used by law enforcement to arrest Haskel and disperse the protesters waving “Crime Minister” signs and black flags.

In a Facebook post on Saturday morning, Ohana staunchly defended the behavior of the police.

“Lieutenant general, brigadier general or private, there will be no tolerance for blocking roads, [which] is an act of violence against innocent and peaceful civilians,” he wrote, pointing out that even his own cousin was arrested during the same event. “In a democratic country, a public security minister doesn’t instruct police whom to arrest or whom to release.”

Ohana insisted that the above applies to all perpetrators, regardless of military rank, political connections, sexual orientation, ethnic background or physical disability. He also revealed details of the story, including facts purposely obfuscated by the black-flaggers and their apologists. For example, Haskel was not arrested until he finished delivering a speech against the prime minister.

The Black Flag demonstrators may have been exhausted from their anti-Netanyahu activities on Friday afternoon and Saturday night, but many were among the thousands of Israelis who attended Sunday evening’s LGBTQ protest rallies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual gay-pride parades and other events that were scheduled to take place this week were canceled and replaced by a “muted” happening under the appropriately intersectional title: “The Revolution Is Not Yet Complete.”

It is not clear whether Ohana turned up at any of these rallies, where he most certainly would not have been welcome, other than among members of the Likud’s LGBTQ faction. But one thing is certain: The police under his ministry’s auspices spent the day arresting dozens of anti-gay activists planning on disrupting the proceedings. For this, neither the men and women in blue nor Ohana will receive credit.

No, the self-described “Jew, Israeli, Mizrahi, homosexual, Likudnik, hawk, liberal and proponent of a free-market economy” remains a source of consternation to left-wingers of all persuasions. The good news is that he continues to be an inspiration to his ideological allies.

When he first entered the Knesset in December 2015, Ohana explained how his priorities shift depending on the circumstances.

“When a Jew is persecuted with [Arabic] shouts of ‘itbah al yahud’ [‘slaughter the Jews’], I am first and foremost a Jew,” he said in his inaugural address. “When [Sephardi] culture is minimized or dismissed, I am a Mizrahi. When Israeli security forces are slandered, I am a soldier. When a young girl is stabbed to death during a [gay-pride] parade about love and tolerance, I am a homosexual who isn’t [sitting around] waiting for the day to come, but one who stands up and brings it on.”

Given the current circumstances, he has his work cut out for him.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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