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social sciences

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The state of Israel is a young and very complex nation. It is a religious state with a conservative majority, yet activists have managed to gain a legal status and a degree of protection under the law that is equaled in only the most progressive countries. However, as elsewhere, Israeli glbtq communities struggle with divisions within their own ranks, as well as with anti-gay prejudice in the society as a whole.

A Place of Contradiction

Since its inception, the state of Israel has been a place of intense contradiction, a complex, and often volatile, mix of different races, religions, cultures, classes, and degrees of privilege.

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Established in 1948 as a Jewish nation and a homeland for all Jews, Israel became a refuge for Jews fleeing worldwide anti-Semitism. However, as tens of thousands of European and American Jews immigrated to the tiny Middle Eastern nation, it also became a symbol of Western aggression, both to the Palestinian people who had inhabited the land for generations, and to their Arab neighbors.

In little more than half a century, the new nation has developed a representative government and a distinct culture, including a vibrant modern Hebrew language created from the ancient Jewish tongue. With the help of allies--principally the United States-- Israel has also built one of the most powerful military forces in the world.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is employed not only to fend off enemies from the outside, but also to suppress the Palestinian population within its borders and in the highly contested Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza that Israel has occupied since 1967.

Some social analysts believe that it is Israel's embattled state that has prompted government officials toward liberality on some social issues, including gay and lesbian rights. They argue that the Israeli government, viewed as an oppressor nation in many parts of the world, is anxious to demonstrate an enlightened generosity where possible.

Despite the official liberalism, however, lesbians and gays are still stigmatized in many areas of Israeli society, and conservative religious courts still have a great deal of control over family issues, such as marriage, divorce, and child custody.

Gay Liberation

Gay liberation came to Israel, as it did to much of the Western world, during the 1970s. In 1975, activists came together to form the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights. The SPPR was a support organization that worked to improve conditions for gay men and lesbians. Its name was intentionally vague, as public use of the word homosexual was deemed too controversial in an Israel that still had laws on the books.

Later the SPPR changed its name to the Agudah, the Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender in Israel. The Agudah continues to work for equality for Israeli queers through political lobbying and education. In 1996, the organization began to produce a weekly glbtq television magazine program called Gayim L'hatzig (Gays Proud to Present).

Though some women worked in SPPR, many Israeli lesbians found a more comfortable place in feminist groups. In 1987, some Israeli lesbian feminists banded together to form CLAF, the Community of Lesbians and Feminists, which works to develop the lesbian community and to fight for lesbian rights, especially in the areas of child bearing, child custody, and partnership benefits. In 2003, CLAF began publishing Israel's only lesbian magazine, Pandora.


Although gay men and lesbians began working together during the 1970s, efforts to change the legal status of Israeli queers did not begin bearing fruit until the late 1980s.

In 1988, the Knesset (Parliament) repealed the sodomy law, in effect decriminalizing homosexuality, and in 1992 a law was passed forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Feminist Knesset member Yael Dayan became a strong supporter of lesbian and gay rights, and in 1993, she supported the creation of a Knesset sub-committee focusing on lesbian and gay issues.

That same year, a well-known professor and major in the IDF, Uzi Even, came out as a gay man and worked to institute an anti-discrimination policy within the IDF. Even with such a policy in place however, queer soldiers must still be reported and are subjected to special security checks.

In 1994, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a decision with far-reaching consequences for gay men and lesbians, when it upheld a lower court decision to force El Al Airlines to grant spousal benefits to the partner of a gay flight attendant. In 1995, the protection became even broader as Yael Dayan and the Agudah worked to get laws passed granting rights to same-sex couples.

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Above: Marchers at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade in 2004.

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