Israel surrogate law a victory for gay rights

Orthodox politicians try to sabotage a bill ensuring surrogacy rights to single parents and same-sex couples behind the scenes, but to no avail.

al-monitor Participants hold rainbow flags during the 12th annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Aug. 1, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Topics covered

society, politics, orthodox, israel, homosexuals, habayit hayehudi, gay

Jun 2, 2014

The amendment to the Surrogacy Law (Law Concerning Agreements to Carry Embryos), which was approved by the government on June 1, with a large majority, is more than just an important landmark in Israel’s gay revolution. It is also an expression of an overall attitude of openness that has come to characterize the political system over the past few years in all matters pertaining to the rights of the gay and lesbian community.

The amendment, which was initiated by Health Minister Yael German (Yesh Atid Party), would allow gays and lesbians to use surrogacy services in Israel to become parents. It received the support of all ministers from the Likud Party, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the ministers from Yesh Atid and Hatnua.

As expected, it was ministers representing HaBayit HaYehudi Party, headed by Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who tried to torpedo this amendment. In March, Ariel filed an appeal with the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which had approved the law two weeks earlier, thereby delaying its approval by the entire Cabinet.

Ariel, who is known for his homophobic attitudes (he once asserted that recruiting openly gay people would interfere with the Israel Defense Forces' ability to fight), explained at the time that the amendment to the law imposes a moral and ethical question on what an Israeli family should look like. Rabbis associated with HaBayit HaYehudi were stirring the pot behind the scenes, calling on religious Knesset members to oppose the bill.

Nevertheless, despite efforts by HaBayit HaYehudi to sabotage it, this important amendment to the law did receive the cabinet’s approval. It will be brought before the Knesset for final approval in the coming months, and it is expected to pass with the support of Knesset members from the Labor Party and Meretz.

Health Minister Yael German deserves to be lauded for refusing to surrender to the political maneuvers of HaBayit HaYehudi. She promises to fight to ensure that the new law is passed by the Knesset. “There’s this feeling that the eggs have thawed out, and now we are preparing to make a baby and see it born in the Knesset,” the media quoted her as saying. She was right in adding, “This is an auspicious day. The proposed law balances the desire and right of each and every person to be a parent, while protecting the surrogate and her rights.”

This time, ultra-Orthodox Knesset members such as the former chairman of the Shas Party, Eli Yishai, avoided attacking or hurling insults at the decision, as they had been prone to do in the past in all matters involving the gay community. Yishai will always be remembered for his diagnosis, “Gays and lesbians are sick people,” while in 2008, another member of Shas, Knesset member Nissim Zeev, tried to incite people against the gay community by saying that they should be treated like the avian flu.

It is not as if ultra-Orthodox Knesset members suddenly changed their minds about the LGBT community. They simply realize that with the current public atmosphere of openness and acceptance, they must tone down their rhetoric. The murder of two young members of the community at a youth LGBT community center in Tel Aviv in August 2009 also helped to moderate the rhetoric of ultra-Orthodox politicians regarding the gay community. One of the first directions investigated was that the murder was a hate crime, and an accusatory finger was pointed, first and foremost at the ultra-Orthodox for fanning the flames of incitement. One immediate effect of this shocking murder was a wave of empathy toward the community among the general public. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even paid a well-publicized visit to the site of the incident, accompanied by then-Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar.

At the same time, mainstream politicians in Israel have been courting the gay community for a few years now, especially after the community proved its electoral strength and given the many power bases it has in the media. Following the precedent set by the veteran gay group of Meretz members, gay groups have formed in the Labor, Likud, Kadima, and Yesh Atid parties.

At the last Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv in June 2013, ministers and Knesset members competed over the right to address the community. Ministers Yair Lapid, Yael German, Limor Livnat and Tzipi Livni received the honor, along with the chairwoman of the Meretz Party, Zehava Gal-On, and the then-chairwoman of the Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich. But many other Knesset members, including members of the Likud such as Knesset member Miri Regev, were also seen at the event, and made sure to publicize the fact that they were there.

In this atmosphere, even the head of the HaBayit HaYehudi party, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, was forced to show openness, especially given his efforts to promote a progressive, young image for himself. In the last election, Bennett managed to persuade moderate, secular young people to vote for HaBayit HaYehudi, despite the party’s nationalist bent. He even gave the false impression that he planned to advance the rights of the gay community.

Particularly memorable was his well-publicized meeting with the “Prince of Prime Time,” Asi Azar, at a kosher Tel Aviv restaurant. Azar, who is openly gay and has been at the forefront of the community’s most prominent struggles for the past few years, came away with the impression that Bennett was on the “good side” of the equation. Only a few months later, he realized that he was the victim of a carefully orchestrated ploy for the media, when HaBayit HaYehudi torpedoed a law proposed by Knesset member Adi Kol of Yesh Atid to make the tax benefits enjoyed by same-sex parents the same as those received by straight couples. Later, HaBayit HaYehudi, led by Ariel, struck again by fighting against the amendment to the Surrogacy Law.

But Bennett’s duplicitous attitude toward the community also proves that he recognizes the strength that the community has among the general public, and the influence that a Facebook and Twitter personality like Azar has on hundreds of thousands of followers. This duplicity is infuriating and worthy of condemnation, but it is also proof that a positive change in attitude toward the LGBT community is underway, both among the public and the politicians. It was important for Bennett to be photographed with Azar.

There is still a long way to go before gays and lesbians obtain equal rights in Israel, but the country’s political system is on the right track. HaBayit HaYehudi continues to be part of a government that supports a progressive law such as the Surrogacy Law. And this very fact shows that even the national religious community could live with granting gays and lesbians the legal right to become parents right here in Israel.

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