Israel’s Agudah Relaunches Political Branch

Shabi Gatenio, an activist for the LGBT community for many years, was chosen to be in charge of ‘Otzma,’ the political branch of the Agudah in Israel. The Agudah has been relaunched this week in order to make sure Israel is not going backwards as far as LGBT equality is concerned. This week, Gatenio wrote a column on the Israeli website Mako, linking the political branch’s activity to the start of the fight for equality. He explains why we need a political guard in Israel- now more than ever. Here’s a part of the column:

“Sixteen years after the Declaration of the State of Israel, on July 14th 1964, the issue of homosexual sex being a crime liable to arrest, was first discussed in the Knesset.

Surprisingly, it was raised by Knesset member Yaakov Katz from the religious party Agudat Israel, who was furious when Israeli Supreme Court Judge Haim Cohen decided that the acts (“sexual intercourse not in the way of nature”) “are not wrong and don’t indicate that the people who do them are criminals who deserve punishment; therefore, there’s no place for such a law within a legal system in a country of our time.” These words made the religious party chase after Cohen with a goal to taking him down.

Forty eight years have passed since then, and 24 years since the anti-gay law was canceled, thanks to the left wing party Ratz, Shulamit Aloni and Mordechai Virshowsky. Today there’s a gay out-of-the-closet member in the Knesset, and most of the big parties include LGBT groups which are very important. But the LGBT fight for equality in Israel is far from over, and there is a possibility that things can get worse and the freedom of each one of us will be questioned again.

It’s important to remember that most of the LGBT community rights in Israel have been given to us by a ruling of a judge and not supported by legislation, so the Knesset can take them away easily by one vote. Take a look at what happens in Russia for example, or our neighboring countries, in order to understand the threat for us. Just because those in the religious parties who think now as Yaakov Katz thought in 1964 are keeping their mouths closed can be deceiving and can make one think that the danger is behind us.

In a political aspect, it’s very important and impressive that in a time of disaster, like the disaster that came upon the community with the revolting murder in Bar Noar , the President of Israel, the Prime Minister and many other ministers stand beside us. But most of them do it from their narrow personal considerations that don’t always match our exact interests. We cannot rely on that and we shall still be on guard, checking the steps taken by the Knesset and the government.

The largest part of the LGBT equality fight is happening in the Knesset, and therefore should be handled cleverly, from experience, because every mistake can result in a price paid by our community members.

When the Agudah was established, it formed ‘Otzma’ (“Strength”), the political branch that acted towards progress of the community’s legal classification. It was one of the influential elements in canceling the law forbidding homosexual intercourse and other laws.
At the beginning of the year, the board of the Agudah decided to re-launch ‘Otzma,’ now more important than ever. Now that we have a gay representative in the Knesset, when there are LGBT groups in almost every party and the support for our fight is getting stronger, we need someone to focus our goals and assemble all of these energies to the benefit of the LGBT community, without special interests or other political limits.

After a few months of planning and constructing, these days we are re-establishing the work of ‘Otzma’ with a goal to bringing it back to its natural place, as an important and positive element for our strength in the Knesset. There’s no doubt that our success depends on you and your involvement, being recruited for fights when needed – every one according to his/her own perception. A great way to start is by attending our election event on January 4, 2013.”