PM brags about gay community, but Knesset rejects same-sex civil union bill
Netanyahu boasted on Sunday that Israel was the only Mideast country that 'welcomes gays,' yet only last week his own coalition thwarted a law supporting LGBT rights; bill's initiator, Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir, slams 'hypocrite' lawmakers who failed to back her proposal after promising to do so.
The vote was held two days before a record number of 250,000 people from all over the world flooded Tel Aviv's streets celebrating the Gay Pride Parade.
Although lawmakers of Likud and other coalition factions had expressed support for the bill, they lined up with the coalition discipline at the expense of the LGBT community's rights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted Sunday, during his speech at the opening of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) conference, that Israel was the only country in the Middle East that accepted the LGBT community.
"I am very proud that we have a very, very bright, and rising star in our party, Amir Ohana, but there are others in other parties,” he said, in reference to Likud’s first openly gay lawmaker who is raising his twin children with his partner.
"(Israel) is the only state in the Middle East in which homosexuals walk freely in Tel Aviv's streets and are being represented in the Knesset," Netanyahu stated.
The prime minister chose not to mention, however, that the coalition rejected last week the same-sex civil union bill in its preliminary reading, with 38 MKs backing it and 41 opposing.
Kulanu MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, chairwoman of the Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, told Ynet she voted against the bill due to coalition discipline. "I'm all in favor for a person to live according to his belief and (sexual) inclination," she said.
"However, I (also) believe in practicality and do my best to be realistic and choose my battles. I hope that someday (the bill) will be backed by the majority in the Knesset as well as among the citizens," she explained.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who is openly gay, did not attend the vote since he was a broad, but wrote a post on Facebook denying the rumors implying he had voted against the bill.
"I don't really know how to deal with lies, but I see a few of them of going around," Ohana said. "I'm in Paris, attending a conference about the war on terror. The rumor that is going around that I voted against the same-sex civil union bill is a lie.
"I've never voted against any bill concerning the LGBT community since my first day in the Knesset, even when it was the coalition's obligatory stance," Ohana added.
"I've been voting in favor of bills concerning the LGBT community and against the coalition's stance for over a year, since my coalition rebellion," he elaborated.
"One can criticize me and say I have to deal with more LGBT-related matters (even if it's like fighting windmills in light of this coalition), one can demand that I be a better gay, just stop lying," Ohana implored.
Ynet turned to a few other coalition members who had voted against the bill and had shown support of the LGBT community on a number of occasions, but they chose not to comment on the matter.
The bill's initiator, MK Shaffir, told Ynet: "This was the closest fight we've had over a bill (concerning the LGBT community).
"(The same-sex civil union) bill could have made same-sex marriage in Israel a reality—something that is already supposed to be a given. Almost all of the Western world's countries have joined over the past few years to the list of countries enabling same-sex unions," Shaffir explained.
"Israel is officially signaling the world something completely different. The Ministry of Tourism wanted to spend NIS 12 million last year to promote gay tourism in Israel, but when it comes to voting, things suddenly look completely different, and other MKs who publicly stated they would vote in favor of the bill surprisingly vanished from the plenum (when the time to vote came)," she lashed out.
"I don't recall the ten amendments including coalition discipline. What is this? Is this a law coming from the sky? MKs go to the Knesset to promote their policies. The bill's biggest opponents are the Bayit Yehudi's members and not the members of the ultra-Orthodox parties," she lamented.
"One of the most infuriating things is that during the vote the Kulanu's MKs who promised to back the bill and protect the equality and the democracy (voted against the bill-ed)," Shffir decried.
"Kulanu has promised the public a lot. Certain MKs said loud and clear, on television, that they would support same-sex marriage. Several Likud's MKs also vowed they would vote in favor of any bill concerning promoting the LGBT community," the Zionist Union MK recalled.
"We heard those promises made in public, but in the moment of truth those MKs who display a liberal facade, just ran away," she opined.
"Kulanu MK Meirav Ben-Ari promised to vote in favor of the bill as well as MK Roy Folkman (but they didn't-ed). I would expect MK Orly Levy and Likud's MK Sharren Haskel to also back the bill (however it didn't happen-ed)," she concluded.
When Shaffir was asked whether those MKs who had not backed the bill were hypocrites, she said "absolutely."
"I think people have to realize that when they go into politics they do it in order to keep their promises. They work for the public, not for (Bayit Yehudi MK) Bezalel Smotrich or (United Torah Judaism MK) Yaakov Litzman "
MK Meirav Ben-Ari said in response that she didn't back the bill, but she didn't offset for an MK's absence either. "That's why the vote was so close. I'm sure it's a matter of time until the bill passes.
"While other MKs are busy with a legislation that achieves nothing, I'm constantly busy transferring budgets to promote education, welfare and health among others in the LGBT community," Ben-Ari added.