LGBT rights in Israel

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LGBT rights in Israel
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1988 (but no record of enforcement of "buggery" law before this and the attorney general declared that laws against homosexuality would not be enforced in 1963)
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
Unregistered cohabitation since 1994
Same-sex marriages performed outside of Israel recognized since 2006
Only marriages sanctioned by the religious authorities may be performed within Israel (this applies to opposite-sex couples who are not eligible for religious weddings also)
Adoption (see below)
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protection in employment (see below)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Israel are considered the most developed in the Middle East.[1] In November 2005, a groundbreaking court decision in Israel ruled that a lesbian spouse could officially adopt a child born to her current partner, by artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor; this ruling was despite protests by the Orthodox Jewish parliamentary parties (which are a minority). Common law marriage has already been similarly achieved (which grants most of the official marriage rights to the spouse), but full official same-sex marriage has not yet been sanctioned. However, same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are recognized.

Israel also has one of the highest percentages of support for same-sex marriage in the world, with 61% of Israelis supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples.[2]

Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Cyprus are the only countries in the Middle East[3] where homosexuality between consenting adults in private is not illegal and homosexuals are not persecuted under law. In most other Middle Eastern countries homosexuality is illegal, often punishable by flogging and even hanging. Israel was the first country in Asia where homosexuals were protected by anti-discrimination laws,[4] and remains the only country in the Middle East to provide such legal protection.

Out Magazine has named Tel Aviv "the gay capital of the Middle East."[5]

In August 2009, an armed attacker shot dead two people and injured 15 more in an attack on a lesbian and gay centre in Tel Aviv[6]. The incident has been deplored by many organizations and government officials, such as the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Shimon Peres.

Former laws against homosexuality

The State of Israel inherited its sodomy or "buggery" law from British influence, but there is no record that it was ever enforced against homosexual acts that took place between consenting adults in private. In 1963 the attorney general declared that this law would not be enforced; however, in certain cases defendants were found guilty of "sodomy" (which according to Israeli law includes oral sex as well), apparently by way of plea bargains: those defendants had been indicted for more serious sexual offences. There were also cases of soldiers tried for homosexual acts in military courts. The ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts was formally repealed by the national legislative assembly Knesset in 1988.[7] The age of consent for both heterosexuals and homosexuals is sixteen years of age.

Gender identity/expression

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Israeli law recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It is the only country in the Middle East and all of Asia to do so. It does not, however, allow same-sex couples to marry on Israeli soil. Civil marriage doesn't exist in Israel for heterosexual couples, either, and therefore no marriage not sanctioned by religious authorities can take place within Israel. (This restriction forces not only gay couples, but also all mixed-religion heterosexual couples and any person who wishes a non religious marriage, to marry outside the country.)

The State of Israel allows foreign partners of its homosexual citizenry to receive residency permits. The Civil Service Commission extends spousal benefits and pensions to the partners of homosexual employees. The Israeli State Attorney's Office has extended the spousal exemption from property-transfer taxes to same-sex couples. Israel's attorney general has granted legal recognition to same-sex couples in financial and other business matters. Attorney General Meni Mazuz said the couples will be treated the same as common-law spouses, recognizing them as legal units for tax, real estate, and financial purposes. Mazuz made his decision by refusing to appeal a district court ruling in an inheritance case that recognized the legality of a same-sex union, his office said in a statement. Mazuz did differentiate, however, between recognizing same-sex unions for financial and practical purposes, as he did, and changing the law to officially sanction the unions, which would be a matter for parliament, according to the statement.

The city of Tel Aviv recognizes unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, as family units and grants them discounts for municipal services. Under the bylaw, unmarried couples qualify for the same discounts on day care and the use of swimming pools, sports facilities, and other city-sponsored activities that married couples enjoy.

On January 29, 2007, following a Supreme Court ruling ordering them to do so, Jerusalem registered its first gay couple, Avi and Binyamin Rose.[8]

Adoption and family planning

On January 10, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that a lesbian couple is able to legally adopt each other's children. During the past 15 years that Tal and Avital Jarus-Hakak have lived together, they have had a total of three children. The couple petitioned the Tel Aviv Family Court for the right to formally adopt each other's children in 1997, but the request was rejected because Israel's adoption law had no provisions for same-sex couples. The couple appealed. While they failed to get a favorable ruling in the Tel Aviv District Court, the Supreme Court accepted the case. Citing Article 25 of the Adoption Law, the Yaros-Hakaks argued that the law allows for "special circumstances" for adoption when it is for the good of the child, even if the child's parents are still alive. The only condition is that the person seeking to adopt be single. The couple argued that since the state does not recognize same-sex marriage, they are single by law. The Yaros-Hakaks added that adoption was in the best interest of the children if one of their natural mothers should die. The Supreme Court of Israel agreed, ruling 7-2 in favor of the couple.

Following the supreme court ruling, a lesbian couple was allowed to adopt each other's biological children on February 12, 2006. Before that, gay partners of parents were granted guardianship over their partner's children.

On March 10, 2009, the Tel Aviv family court ruled that former Knesset member Uzi Even and his life partner, Amit Kama, can legally adopt their 30-year-old foster son, Yossi, making them the first same-sex male couple in Israel whose right of adoption has been legally acknowledged.[9]

Military service

Openly gay soldiers serve without hindrance in all branches of the military. Discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers in recruitment, placement and promotion is prohibited in Israel.[10]

Since 1993, homosexuals have been allowed to openly serve in the military, including special units.

In 1956, two soldiers were put on military trial on charges of sexual intercourse 'against nature' and were supposed to be put in military prison for one year, but the punishment was reduced on the grounds that 'homosexuality is a disease, not a crime'. Until the late 80s, the commanders had to report to the military psychiatric department about homosexual soldiers. The vast majority of psychological and psychiatric organizations in Israel and worldwide no longer consider homosexuality to be a disease or defect.

Israeli youth who are exempt from military service can volunteer for national service. Since June 2006, The Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders in Israel (Agudah) qualifies as such a service.[11] However, a steadily increasing number of gay recruits do full military service, often in combat units. The Ma'ariv newspaper reported that one of the largest units in the Israeli army, an intelligence processing unit, is well known for the large number of uncloseted LGBT soldiers serving in it.

In a poll conducted in 2006, half of gay soldiers were found to be harassed during their army duty. Most cases involved verbal harassment.[12]

Discrimination protections

In 1992 legislation was introduced to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with some exemptions for religious organizations.

Other court rulings

  • The Supreme Court ruled that the partner of a gay employee at El Al, Israel's national airline, is entitled to free airline tickets just as the spouse of any heterosexual employee is.
  • The Supreme Court recognized a lesbian as the adoptive mother of the four-year-old son of her same-sex partner, and ordered the Interior Ministry to register the adoption.
  • An Israeli family court on March 17, 2002 turned down an application from a lesbian couple to have their partnership union declared legal. The couple was united in a civil ceremony in Germany. The women wanted the court to recognize their partnership as a civil marriage, under Israeli law. The court said that since the women are not recognized as a family under Israeli law, the court is not authorized to rule on their case. A government lawyer who was asked by the court to give a legal opinion on the case on behalf of the Israeli government said that the state objected to granting the request.
  • On December 14, 2004, the Nazareth District Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same rights as married couples in inheritance rights. This ruling overturned a Family Court ruling that an elderly man from Kiryat Shmona was not entitled to spousal rights. The man had sought the estate of his late partner, with whom he lived for several decades. The Nazareth judges ruled that the term "man and woman" as spelled out in Israel's inheritance law also includes same sex couples. Judges Nissim Maman and Gabriela Levy, who issued the majority opinion, based their decision on a loose interpretation of the term "partner" as defined in other court rulings, such as those dealing with issues related to employee benefits, and thus applied the interpretation to the inheritance law. The acting president of the Nazareth District Court, Menachem Ben-David, issued the minority opinion, arguing that the legal text should not be interpreted "contrary to the lingual significance." A government spokesperson said the ruling will be appealed.
  • In December 2004, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the government cannot deport the Colombian partner of a gay Israeli man. The 32-year-old Colombian entered Israel on a visitors visa which has long expired and the Interior Ministry had ordered him deported. His partner is an Israeli citizen and a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The couple filed an emergency petition with the Tel Aviv District Court. The men were represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Judge Uzi Vogelman ruled that the government had acted illegally in attempting to deport the man. In 1999 Supreme Court ruling established that the ministry could not deport foreign nationals married to Israeli citizens. Vogelman's decision extends that to apply to common-law marriages, including same-sex couples.
  • In March 2008, Israel's Interior Ministry granted a gay Palestinian from Jenin a rare residency permit to live with his partner of 8 years in Tel Aviv after he said his sexuality put his life in danger in the West Bank.[13]

LGBT rights movement in Israel

Since the 1970s there has been an active gay rights movement that has often affiliated itself with the Israeli feminist movement and various liberal and social democratic political parties.[14]

Living conditions

Israel has an active gay community, with well attended annual gay pride festivals[15] held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since 1998. Pride events are also held regularly in Haifa, Beer Sheva, Eilat and Rosh Pina.

The Jerusalem parade gained international coverage when three marchers were stabbed in 2005. The perpetrator was subsequently sentenced to twelve years in prison.[16] An attempt by Jerusalem's mayor, a Haredi Jew, to thwart Jerusalem pride in June 2005 had been challenged in the courts. The mayor lost and was ordered to contribute funds to the event.[17]

The World Pride Festival[18] was planned for Jerusalem in August 2005, despite protests and opposition from members of the three major religions in Jerusalem. However, it was postponed due to Israel's pull out from Gaza Strip, which required the presence of most Israeli police forces and would thus leave the parade with little to no security. However, that parade had been plagued with threats of violence, as well as consistent grandstanding against it by some Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders and members of the Knesset.[19]

In November 2006, more than two thousand members of the Haredi community jammed into streets in an Orthodox neighbourhood in a show of force aimed at pressuring authorities into cancelling the gay pride parade to be held in Jerusalem. About a dozen people were reported injured.[20]

Israel is one of only eleven foreign countries to have a chapter of the U.S. PFLAG group called TEHILA.[21]

LGBT in Israeli society

LGBT in Israeli politics

Today, Israel's Labor Party and the New Movement-Meretz support gay rights, as did the now-defunct Shinui. Under Tzipi Livni, Kadima has reached out to the gay community.[22][23] Other minor liberal or progressive political parties support a similar platform as well, including the Green Party and the Green Leaf Party.

On October 22, 2002, Meretz MK Uzi Even made history by becoming the first openly gay Member of Knesset. The only other openly gay MK is Nitzan Horowitz, also from Meretz.

Nevertheless, there still have been anti-gay politicians. In 1997, President Ezer Weizman compared homosexuality to alcoholism in front of high school students.[24] This provoked major controversy and the President received numerous calls from civil rights activists and liberal Knesset members. Shortly following, 300 people demonstrated outside of Weizman's residence, demanding his resignation.[25]

On February 20, 2008, Shlomo Benizri, a Knesset member from the religious Shas party, a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ruling coalition, blamed earthquakes that had recently struck the Middle East on the activities of homosexuals. Benizri said in a Knesset plenary session, ""Why do earthquakes happen? .. One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy." He recommended that instead of merely reinforcing buildings to withstand earthquakes, the government should pass legislation to outlaw "perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples." Benizri stated that "A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes."[26]

News coverage

One of the first Israeli newspapers to cover the subject of gay people was a 1962 article in the now defunct "HaOlam HaZeh". Taking a sensationalist tone, the newspaper warned of a "secret underground" movement within Israel.[27] This was the typical manner that Israeli news media would deal with LGBT issues, beyond silence, up until the late 1980s.

It was then that the Tel Aviv weekly newspaper "HaIr" began to publish a chronicle about an Israeli gay man, known at the time as "Moshe", who would later reveal himself to be Gal Uchovsky.[28] The second major shift in how Israeli media dealt with LGBT issues came in 1991, when the Histadrut Labor Federation began to include, in its official publication, a section on LGBT social and political topics.

This was followed by gradually more supportive press coverage on the Israeli LGBT community and its human rights objectives.[29]

Films and TV programs

The first Israeli LGBT-themed film came from openly gay director Amos Guttman and was called, "Nagu'a" (Drifting) (1983)[30], which Guttman was the co-writer of. The film follows a young Israeli gay man, living and working with his grandparents, who has dreams of making a film and finding true love. Guttman, who died of aids in 1993, would write and direct another Israeli gay-themed film titled, "Amazing Grace" (1992). Both films are considered to be autobiographies of the director. In total, Guttman directed 4 films, and 3 short-films. His portray of the Israeli gay men was dark, and his films are considered to be targeted for the LGBT community in Israel, and not to the general public.

Another notable Israeli director to tackle LGBT themes in films has been Eytan Fox. His first film, "Time Off" (1990), was the second film made in Israel to focus on gay people and he has gone onto direct, and write, several successful LGBT-themed films, including "Ba'al Ba'al Lev" (1997) and "Yossi & Jagger" (2002), "Walk on Water" (2004) and "The Bubble" (2006).[31] Fox was also involved in the first Israeli primetime TV drama, made for a general audience, to deal extensively with LGBT-themes - Florentin.

"Florentin" (1997—2000) was an Israeli television series about a group of post-military service, Israeli twenty-somethings living in Florentin. It was the first Israeli series to have, among it major characters, someone who was gay and was part of a slow trend that had been unfolding in the 1990s with shows such as "Straight and to the Point" and "Siton".[32]

Today, there is more programming for a LGBT audience. In 1993, the first commercial TV network in Israel, Channel 2, went on the air and it regularly dealt with LGBT social and political topics, and, in particular, helped generate greater visibility and acceptance of transgender celebrities such as Dana International.[33]

The LGBT community in Israel was also brought to the media's attention following the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 by Dana International, an Israeli transsexual.

Nowaday, LGBT people in Israel can be seen on television in a variety of shows, mostly as hosts (such as Assi Azar), contestants in Reality shows or characters on soap operas.

Other media

Radio stations such as Radio Tzafon and Radio Radius both have scheduled times for guests to come on the air and talk about LGBT social and political topics. More members of the Israeli media have come out, without ruining their careers. Today, all of the three Israeli daily newspapers have openly gay editors and/or writers, and several LGBT-publications have come and gone.

Notable persons

  • Itai Pinkas (formerly Meretz Party), member of the Tel Aviv City Council is openly gay. He is also a former Executive Director of The Agudah, an Israeli LGBT rights organization headquartered in the center of downtown Tel Aviv.
  • Uzi Even (Meretz Party), is an openly gay, former member of Knesset and a professor of chemistry in Tel Aviv University.
  • Yossi Avni-Levy is one of several senior Israeli diplomats who are openly gay. Aside from serving as consul in several European countries, he published three successful books (short stories, novellas and a novel) about gay themes under a pseudonym, before finally coming out.
  • Saar-Ran Netanel (Meretz Party), member of the Jerusalem City Council, is openly gay.
  • Nitzan Horowitz (The New Movement), is an openly gay member of the Knesset, as well as a former Haaretz and Channel 10 news correspondent and civil rights activist.
  • Marcia Freedman, former Meretz Knesset member.

Notable events and culture references

  • On Holocaust Memorial Day 2006, gays and lesbians in Israel were invited to participate in Holocaust memorial services in Europe, acknowledging the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis.[34]
  • Israel was one of six members of a United Nations committee that supported the Coalition Gaie et Lesbienne du Québec (Coalition of Gays and Lesbians of Quebec) having consultative status with the United Nations. The other five in favor were Colombia, Peru, Romania, Britain and the United States; and against were Burundi, China, Egypt, Guinea, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Sudan. With the majority against, the group's credentials were rejected.[35]
  • Israeli film producers and life partners, Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, have included gay themes in some of their films: Walk on Water, Yossi and Jagger, and The Bubble.[36]

Palestinian issues

Some LGBT Palestinians have relocated to Israel, often fleeing harsh intolerance that includes physical abuse, death, or disownment. Significant expatriate groups exist in Tel Aviv and Netanya, where many live with their Israeli same-sex partners who help keep their presence in Israel hidden from the police (who would pursue them not for their sexual orientation, but for staying illegally in the country).[37][38][39]

Most Palestinians have been raised as Muslims so believe that homosexuality and cross-dressing are immoral acts, deserving of harsh punishment.

A 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressured by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to become a suicide bomber in order to "purge his moral guilt," although he had refused.

In 2003, Aswat was founded, which describes itself as a Palestinian lesbian support group. However, the group is headquartered in Haifa, Israel, and is geared toward Arab lesbians in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A secret association of Aswat was founded in Ramallah in March 2007 by four gay students.[40] The Israeli Jerusalem Open House has opened an Arab chapter called Alqaws, reaching out to gay and lesbian Palestinians.

In 2008, Aswat claimed that gays are sometimes targeted by the Israeli security services and told that they must collaborate with Israel or face being outed.[41]

Summary table

Homosexuality legal Yes
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes
Both joint and step adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Gays allowed to serve in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also


  1. "The five most improved places for gay tolerance", The Independent, 2008-09-17. Retrieved on 2009-05-29. "Israel is the only Middle-Eastern country to support gay rights legislation, and the country attracts gay people from Palestine and Lebanon." 
  3. Since there is no single, widely-accepted definition of the boundaries of the Middle East, not all experts agree on the question whether Turkey and Cyprus are considered parts of this region.
  4. "Worker anti-discrimination bill passes" Retrieved on 2008-08-18.
  5. James Kirchick. "Was Arafat Gay?", Out. 
  6. Two killed in shooting at Tel Aviv gay center. Haaretz (2009-08-02). Retrieved on 2009-10-29.
  7. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. Edelman, Ofra. "Gay couple wins right to adopt foster son", Haaretz, 2009-03-11. Retrieved on 2009-03-11. 
  10. Greenberg, Joel. "Tel Aviv Journal; Once Taboo, a Gay Israeli Treads the Halls of Power", The New York Times, 2002-10-16. Retrieved on 2010-05-07. 
  11. [3]
  12. Poll: 52% of gay soldiers sexually harassed in IDF, Jerusalem Post, 2006-10-22
  13. [4]
  14. Queer in the Land of Sodom
  15. [5]
  16. [6]
  17. [7]
  18. [8]
  19. [9]
  20. "3rd Night Of Anti-Gay Riots In Jerusalem",, 2006-11-02. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. 
  21. [10]
  22. Livni, Clinton voice support for gay community in Israel and U.S.
  23. Ben Hartman. "Livni to gay Israelis: Don't let hate crime stop you living your lives", Haaretz, 02/08/2009. 
  24. Silver, Ian. Homosexuality And Judaism
  25. Israeli president apologizes for his anti-gay statements
  26. Shas MK blames gays for recent earthquakes in the region
  27. [11]
  28. [12]
  29. [13]
  30. [14]
  31. [15]
  32. [16]
  33. [17]
  34. [18]
  35. Leopold, Evelyn. "Canadian and Swedish gay groups frowned on at UN", AlertNet, 2007-02-02. 
  36. [19]
  37. [20]
  38. [21]
  39. Cassels, Peter. "Where Jews and Arabs find ways to mix peacefully in the Holy Land", Bay Windows, 2002-05-22. Archived from the original on 2005-11-22. 
  40. [22]
  41. [23]

External links


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