‘Murderous bigotry’: Hundreds protest Israeli launch of anti-trans book

The Hebrew-language edition of Abigail Shrier's book, decried as 'transphobic propaganda,' has been slammed for importing a U.S. conservative culture war.

Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

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Hundreds of people, many of them transgender youth, protested in Ramat Gan on Sunday evening outside a launch event for the new Hebrew translation of a book that attacks the trans community. “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” by the American author Abigail Shrier, condemns what she calls “the current trans epidemic plaguing teenage girls” and inaccurately portrays gender dysphoria as a social contagion.

The event was organized by the right-wing Sella Meir publishing house, which translates books by far-right figures such as Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Yoram Hazony, and is linked to the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum, the hugely influential think tank behind some of Israel’s most anti-democratic legislation in recent years. The launch took place under both heavy police and private security presence at the offices of Forum Cafe Shapira — a right-wing event space that describes itself as the “only body that has set itself the goal of eradicating all of the evil spirit of Progressivism” — after activists succeeded in canceling the initial launch events, which were supposed to take place in Tel Aviv.

Standing in front of the dozens of attendees, the demonstrators chanted slogans against transphobia and blocked the entrance to the building, forcing the attendees, including Sella Meir publisher Rotem Sella, to walk through the demonstration on their way in.

A number of protesters managed to infiltrate the event and confront Shrier during her talk. Some of the attendees removed Ayelet Covo, a 16-year-old trans activist, by dragging him across the floor by the leg. “You are exporting murderous bigotry,” Covo yelled at Shrier, in English. “You don’t care about us!”

“They didn’t want to hear us,” Covo said after being removed from the room. “This book is transphobic propaganda. It claims that being trans is a trend, or a social disease, that people catch from other trans people.”

Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

“Irreversible Damage” was first published in 2020. The book was highly controversial — though it was named one of the best books of the year by mainstream publications like the Economist, others were harshly critical, calling Shrier’s research methods into question, and accusing her of writing an anti-trans polemic disguised as science journalism. Trans activists were fiercely opposed to its publication and distribution, petitioning companies like Target and Amazon to remove the title from their inventories. 

Covo said that while the book takes a strong anti-trans stance, the positions it represents are in fact widely held. According to him, the book creates the impression that children who want to begin the process of gender transition do so solely to get attention, and that they can be “fixed,” if treated. Attempts to do so, Covo said, can cause enormous damage.

“When teenagers go to the doctor hoping to start taking hormones, we are forced to go from one doctor to another and to answer intrusive questions, because they don’t trust us. The assumption is that they need to check that we are telling the truth before we are allowed to make medical decisions about ourselves. The book only entrenches that idea.”

Importing anti-trans policies from America

Maya Bedarshi Kirshen, an 18-year-old genderqueer activist who also participated in the demonstration, said that the greatest danger posed by the book is how it imports American conservatism to Israel. “This is a specific danger for the trans community,” Bedarshi Kirshen said. “But there is also a broader trend of translating conservative American values and changing the discourse [in Israel]. And what is happening there is terrible in terms of laws regarding gender.” 

Bedrashi Kirshen said the book may lead to “a worsening in the discourse around trans boys and girls,” calling it “frightening and insulting.” “They treat trans identity as if it is a contagious disease that needs to be cured. This has been said about many oppressed groups throughout history — and it never ends well.”

Shrier is not an expert on gender or the issues facing the trans community. She claims in her book, for example, that 70 percent of transgender people eventually change their minds and detransition to the sex they were assigned at birth, but data shows that the number is significantly lower. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), among approximately 28,000 respondents, only 8 percent reported regretting their transition, and 62 percent of those said their regret was “temporary.”

Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)
Activists protest the launch event for an anti-trans book in Ramat Gan, May 28, 2023. (Oren Ziv)

Dr. Ido Katri from the School of Social Work and the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University said that “offensive concepts that are not backed up by research and professional experience, such as those that are spread by ‘Irreversible Damage,’ only exacerbate the pressures on teenagers. The book, and the approach it promotes regarding a theory of ‘social contagion,’ undermines the authenticity of experiences of gender difference and ignores the complexity of gender identity development in all of us, trans and non-trans. It is very worrying to see how conservative and dark elements make cynical use of children and youth of diverse genders to provoke division within liberal, progressive communities and even within the LGBTQ communities.”

According to Katri, not only is the book translated from English, but “this whole discourse is a strategic import of tactics from the far right in the U.S. The book promotes a narrative that justifies a policy of legal exclusion and discrimination against the trans community, particularly minors. It is very important to view such narratives critically, to continue to promote the respect and autonomy of the trans community, and to act in the interests of children and young people, rather than promoting fear and misunderstanding.”

American politics has been consumed by a wave of anti-trans legislation in the last year. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who recently announced his run for president, has led conservative anti-trans efforts with legislation banning gender-affirming care and enabling the state to take into custody children whose families support their pursuit of such care. Other states have followed suit, with bills banning trans athletes from participating in sports and from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

Nina Halevy, an activist with Project Gila, a trans empowerment outfit, as well as with the Trans Center in Tel Aviv, which trains professionals to work with the trans community, participated in the demonstration last night. “It was a celebration of the beauty and strength of our community,” Halevy said. “Our young people organized everything. They will no longer accept attempts to erase them.”

Halevy said that the book contributes to the anti-trans and wider anti-LGBTQ atmosphere in Israel. “A system in which a person like Avi Maoz [an MK in the ruling coalition and the head of the homophobic Noam party], whose hatred towards us is his public ticket, receives government budgets and control over areas of responsibility that concern us directly, is very worrying. I conduct training in the healthcare system, and I see that trending and toxic information, such as that found in this book, also permeates professional circles. This has the potential to cause enormous harm to our children, youth, and young adults.”

Halevy added that “the mental distress and suicide in our community stem from constant experiences of erasure and denial of the legitimacy and authenticity of our identity. We are reduced to body parts, hormones, and surgeries. This is not the issue at all: the issue is our right to be who we are. We talk about our community in the contexts of depression, anxiety, loneliness, distress, and suicide; but in our spaces we also perceive how good it is for us to enjoy the simple right to live in the world as who we are.”

In response to a question about the damage that the translated book might cause and about the fact that some journalists were not allowed to cover the book launch event, Sella Meir Publishing stated: “We want to thank Abigail Shrier for an inspiring evening and a book full of compassion, love for people, and concern for children. This is a promising start to an important conversation every Israeli parent should be exposed to.”

A version of this article was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.