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social sciences

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In 1997, Dana International (Sharon Cohen), an Israeli transwoman, won first place in the Eurovision Song Contest, bringing issues into the Israeli mainstream for the first time.

In 1998, Michal Eden was elected to the Tel Aviv City Council, becoming the first openly lesbian public official.

Sponsor Message.

In 2000, the Israeli government began to allow foreign partners of Israeli gay men and lesbians to immigrate.

In 2002, Uzi Even became the first openly gay member of the Knesset.


Though gay men and lesbians have been very successful in obtaining legal protections, there is still much conservative opposition to queer liberation.

A 1994 international gay and lesbian conference was marred when right-wing protesters disrupted a ceremonial wreath-laying at the Jerusalem Holocaust Memorial.

In 1998, an annual Tel Aviv drag festival called Wigstock was disrupted when police tried to shut the program down at the beginning of the Sabbath on Saturday evening. Angry gay protesters blocked traffic for several hours.

In June of 2005, Jerusalem's gay pride parade was obstructed by a large demonstration by Orthodox Jews, who hurled bottles of urine and bags containing feces at the marchers. One of their number stabbed three marchers.

Internal Divisions

In addition to the opposition from without, the glbtq movement has also had to struggle with internal divisions.

As frequently occurs in diverse communities, a split developed between more conservative (and often more privileged) gay men and lesbians, whose focus is on gay rights alone, and members of the radical left, who tend to see gay liberation as part of a much larger social movement. Radical queers often insist that the struggle for gay rights must go hand-in-hand with fighting for other social improvements, such as racial and class equality.

This split has been especially divisive in Israel, which not only has distinct and often harsh class and ethnic divisions within its Jewish population, but also has been conducting a military occupation of neighboring lands for over three decades. Many queers began to feel that they could no longer work simply to gain rights within a system they find militaristic and oppressive.

Lesbians have continued to be a strong presence in feminist groups, taking leadership roles in peace groups such as Women in Black, Bat Shalom (Daughter of Peace), and the Women's Coalition for Peace, which work to publicize and change the difficult conditions created for Palestinians by the Occupation.

In 1997 Jerusalem Open House, "a glbt community center advancing the cause of social tolerance," was founded. The philosophy of the center is expressed by its executive director, Hagai El-Ad, "The struggle for our rights is worthless if it's indifferent to what's happening to people a kilometer from here."

Kvisa Sh'chora, or Black Laundry, an anarchist queer group that opposes the Occupation, was founded during the 2001 Tel Aviv Pride March. The group formed a "No Pride in Occupation" contingent, carrying signs that challenged Israeli government policies.

One organizer, Dalit Baum, described the mood that led to the formation of Black Laundry: "It felt impossible to celebrate our civil rights in a carnival atmosphere when we knew what was being done in the occupied territories just a short distance away." Black Laundry has continued to work to support Palestinian struggles for independence and often uses biting humor to shock more mainstream gay men and lesbians out of their complacency.

Israeli Palestinians

Gay men and lesbians who are Palestinian citizens of Israel have their own specific issues. At a time when Palestinian unity is considered all-important, it can be hard for Palestinian queers to assert their own identities and needs. Though there is some support from straight Palestinians, there is also a great deal of opposition to homosexuality from others, especially from conservative groups.

During the early 2000s, a group of Palestinian lesbians formed ASWAT, a support group intended to create safe space for Palestinian gay women both inside and outside Israel's borders to explore their sexual identities and their community. ASWAT means "voices" in Arabic and the group's members describe themselves as "a courageous and dynamic group of women who have decided to organize to challenge the status quo and to improve our own lives, and to hopefully secure equal rights for ourselves and for those who come after us."


Over the past twenty years, Israeli gay men and lesbians have moved from the margins of Israeli society toward the mainstream. Influenced by immigrants from the United States and Western Europe, they have organized a movement for equality.

Despite the successes of the Israeli glbtq movement, however, opposition from religious Jews remains, and the movement itself is fractured by internal divisions. Nevertheless, there is reason to hope that glbtq individuals will continue to expand their legal rights and protections.

Tina Gianoulis

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social sciences >> Overview:  Gay Left

The Gay Left refers to a cluster of positions on the political spectrum that has existed within the lesbian and gay rights movement at least since the Stonewall riots.

social sciences >> Overview:  Judaism

Different denominations within Judaism have vastly differing opinions on both the inclusion of glbtq people into their communities and the tolerance that should be accorded homosexual acts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy Laws and Sodomy Law Reform

Sodomy laws, which provided the legal basis for police harassment of sexual minorities, were conclusively overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2003, after more than half a century of efforts at reform.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender

"Transgender" has become an umbrella term representing a political alliance between all gender variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women and who suffer political oppression as a result.

literature >> Friend, Robert

An American-born Israeli, Robert Friend was both an accomplished poet in his own right and also an exceptionally skillful translator of poetry from many different languages.


"The Agudah: The Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgender in Israel." About website.

ASWAT website.

CLAF website.

El-Ad. Hagai. "Gay Israel: No Pride In Occupation." The Gully.

Greenberg, Joel.  "Once Taboo, A Gay Israeli Treads the Halls Of Power." The New York Times (October 16, 2002): A4.

Katz, Sue. "Israeli Queers Revolt." Z Activism Online.

Moore, Tracy, ed. Lesbiot: Israeli Lesbians Talk About Sexuality, Feminism, Judaism and Their Lives. London: Cassell, 1999.

Raphael, Lev. "Letter From Israel. " Lambda Book Report 14.7 (November-December 1994): 8-11.

Shalom, Haya. "Report on Israel." International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission website.

Walzer, Lee. "Queer in the Land of Sodom." The Gully.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Israel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated November 21, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006, glbtq, Inc.  


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