Photo: Yaron Brener
Hilton Beach. De facto or not it's a division, and there's something oddly un-kosher about it
Photo: Yaron Brener

Barriers planted in the sand

Op-ed: Whether by accident or by design, the demarcation at Tel Aviv's Hilton Beach keeps the homosexuals away from the religiously observant beach-goers on the other side; should such a barrier exist on, say, the Jersey Shore, you might call it what it is – segregation.

"So it’s tattoos and tight swimsuits over here, tefillin and Torah over there?" my visiting friend asked the first time I invited him to check out the slender arc of sand called Hilton Beach.



"Something like that," I said. At the midpoint there’s a sea barrier of sorts that begins onshore and extends a good ways out into the water. Fish can swim around it with ease, people with a bit more effort; but as a global beach specialist, I can see no practical function to the unsightly structure. Whether by accident or by design, however, it keeps the homosexual heathens away from the religiously observant and presumably non-homosexual beach-goers on the other side.


Should such a demarcation exist somewhere on, say, the Jersey Shore, you might call it what it is: Segregation. Or maybe you wouldn’t, because both sides seem reasonably content with the situation. Tourists are bemused by the sight of men and women sidling up to the water’s edge – on alternate days, of course – in what would appear to be a surfeit of schmatas, given the intensity of the Tel Aviv sun.


Hilton Beach during Pride Week. The whole place might be better off if folks of different stripes mixed it up a bit more (Photo: Omer Shalev)
Hilton Beach during Pride Week. The whole place might be better off if folks of different stripes mixed it up a bit more (Photo: Omer Shalev)


But de facto or not it is a division, and in human terms there's something oddly un-kosher about it. I know, as someone who didn’t grow up in the 972, that my telling Israelis there is something dysfunctional about a beach split in two on non-topographical grounds is a bit like an Israeli telling me that Kim Kardashian’s posterior splashed across the Internet telegraphs the wrong message about American popular culture.


But in the former case, the flip side of funky isn’t just another reality show you can switch on or off, but the entrenchment of facts on the ground that impedes an overdue national conversation. Absence of dialogue is a kind of pollution by omission, and can have damaging effects.


Would I draw a direct line between a city beach bifurcated and the senseless rampage of an Orthodox Jew at a Pride parade in Jerusalem? Absolutely not: A nut job is a nut job, regardless of political affiliation or sexual orientation, and recidivist tendencies in any perpetrator probably operate independently of various social pressures. That said, there is tension, and as inevitable as it may be in a country where being Jewish means different things to different Jews, it’s exacerbated by things like barriers planted in the sand.


When I suggested recently in an online forum that the Hilton Beach barrier be removed on aesthetic and other grounds (I came across an old photo of the beach pre-barrier), I got a taste of some Monica Lewinsky-caliber "cyber-bullying," mostly from young, self-styled Zionists who are quite sure that they have a lock on knowing all that’s best for the future of the State of Israel. There were the predictable shouts of "Haven’t the gays got enough of the beach for themselves already?" which wasn’t really my point – actually not the point at all.


True, in the case of Tel Aviv’s segregated beach, it can get a little cramped on the (unofficial) gay side. During Gay Pride, that petite spit of sand is packed tighter than a can of sardines, while over on the religious beach the holy/holier-than-thou crowd frolics in roomier, if overdressed, abandon. But that’s a quibble: Elbow room isn’t the issue and Tel Aviv’s beaches will never have the girth of Malibu’s. It’s that the whole place might be better off if folks of different stripes mixed it up a bit more, and you don’t have to be a multiculturalism Jedi to realize this.


More alarming was the wacky wellspring of comity toward the social media messages pumped out by the likes of Bayit Yehudi party honcho Naftali Bennett. And it’s a good thing people like that aren’t in charge. Because if they were, they could see how courting the religious right one day – and I’m not even talking about the so-called settlers here – means kowtowing to them the next. That doesn’t mean sanctioning random acts of violence and stupidity, but does it mean a de facto condoning of segregation on the ground, or even in the skies as some travelers on El Al may have noticed?


Whether you call such behavior petty or intolerant, it doesn’t reflect well on the reputation of the Middle East’s only democracy. It overheats everything. It messily steers the country away from integration, toward Destination "What’s up with that?"


Fanaticism may not have won out yet, but Israel needs to hear the wake-up call that America heard this summer: Like it or not, it’s 2015. When it comes to who to sit next to on a bus or who to commingle with at the beach (and also, what to wear there), the Torah simply isn’t the Bible. And God knows it’s hot enough out there already...right?


Anthony Grant can be followed on Twitter @TGi24


פרסום ראשון: 08.13.15, 19:14
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