Ambassador Oren boasts Israel’s record on gay rights – but gets facts wrong

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren claims “Israel fought for gay rights even before 1967.” Problem is, homosexuality was illegal until 1988.

Michael Oren, the American Jew turned Israeli ambassador to the US, is apparently not content with embarrassing himself about Israel’s record regarding its Christian citizens. In an interview with the Philadelphia newspaper Metro, Oren said that “Israel was fighting for gay rights before the 1967 war. Even when terrorists were blowing up our buses and cafes, there was equality for gays.”

Leaving aside the second and particularly ignorant part of this statement – what the hell is the connection between terror attacks and gay rights? Does Oren consider the gay community responsible for those attacks, such that Israel ought to consider withholding some of their rights? – the real problem is with the first part, which is simply false.

Israeli law, much of which is based on Mandatory British law which was endorsed pretty much en bloc, considered homosexuality to be a felony since the country’s inception in 1948. The Knesset re-asserted the law in 1977, but after a long battle simply abolished it in 1988. Until the early 1990s, homosexuality was considered by the IDF to be grounds for denying security clearances and the IDF considered homosexuality to be a mental illness until the late 1980s (Hebrew). By contrast, England and Wales – on which Israeli law is based – abolished their anti-gay laws in 1967, i.e 20 years and more before Israel did.

Admittedly, while homosexuality was considered a felony, one of the first Government’s Counsels, the most humane jurist Haim Cohen (later a Supreme Court judge) ordered the prosecution in the early 1950s to cease prosecution for homosexuality. So criminal prosecution was not a problem – but harassment by the police certainly was, and for several years after the law was abolished in 1988, gays were often arrested for acts such as kissing in public.

Israel is so much on the frontier of gay rights, they cannot marry in it – but, then again, neither can a Jew and a non-Jew. Its police is so vigilant in protecting their rights, it frequently tries to cancel (sometimes successfully) the Jerusalem gay pride marches. The public sector shows its support for them by employing at public expense rabbis who call, directly or indirectly, for either classifying homosexuality as a mental illness or for simply killing them.

Is Oren so blind to all this? Maybe he is. After all, he is an immigrant who doesn’t know the country well. Then again, he may simply be pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans. This, after all, is what “hasbara” is all about.

Related posts:
Ambassador Oren speaks at gay rights forum featuring Israel
Israel’s ‘pinkwash’ makes cynical use of gays and gay rights
Omissions, half truths and lies: Review of Ambassador Oren’s foreign policy piece