When people think of Israel, images of violent conflict often come to mind. Founded in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the country's original purpose was to give the Jewish people a safe haven in their Biblical homeland. Israel's Arab neighbors didn't take too kindly to the new arrivals. And so many wars have been fought over that tiny strip of land.
Things have improved considerably in recent years. Though the conflict with Palestine has yet to be resolved, Israel has enjoyed a lasting peace with Egypt and Jordan, two of its immediate neighbors. Though parts of Jerusalem and small towns like Bnai Brak and Bet Shemesh remain strongholds of the conservative Ultra-Orthodox community, other parts of the country, like the beachfront city of Tel Aviv, have become an oasis of liberal tolerance and openness. Tel Aviv has in fact become one of the world's gay meccas.
The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, has undergone a sea change of it's own. Israel can now boast about having some of the strongest federal LGBT equality laws in the world. It's the only country in the Middle East to offer such benefits to its LGBT citizens.
Many Americans retain an outdated perception of Israel. In “LGBTQ Life In Israel: A Progressing Journey,” a short film produced by Blue Star PR, interviewees in San Francisco's Castro District assume that their Israeli counterparts live under the harsh umbrella of oppression. As the film progresses, we hear a different story from within Israel's borders.
Blue Star PR is a non-profit public relations firm, which seeks to dispel the popular, if sometimes false myths people have about life in the Holy Land. Blue Star's Write On for Israel Program affords young filmmakers an opportunity to make films which tell Israeli stories. “LGBTQ Life in Israel” was produced as part of Write On For Israel.
Shai Doitch runs the Agudah, Israel's primary LGBT advocacy group. "Things have changed dramatically," he says in the film. "We've gone from being on the outside of Israeli society into the mainstream of society. But it's like anywhere else in the world. As long as you go outside from the main city, it's much harder to be gay."
Haya Shalom, a lesbian volunteer organizer for Jerusalem Open House, the capital city's community center, feels that the country has a long way to go. "Israel wants to show that it's one of the most progressive countries in the world," she said. "By law, yes, we have good laws. You cannot practice law unless society is educated and open."
The film shares the story of Jonathan Danilowitz, a flight attendant for El Al Airlines. Many years ago, Danilowitz filed suit so that his boyfriend could get spousal benefits. He won, and the floodgates were opened.
A national workplace anti-discrimination law, covering sexual and gender identity, went into effect in 2004. LGBT people have been able to serve openly in the Israeli army for twenty years.
Eyal Magen tells viewers that the Tel Aviv Pride Parade is now funded by Tel Aviv City Hall, with many leading politicians in attendance. This is an absolute first for the Middle East. Even the Orthodox have had to face the truth, with LGBT Orthodox Jews saying that they don't want to give up their orthodoxy, or their homosexuality.
Israel isn't perfect, but in the ultra-conservative, war ravaged Middle East, it's a beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel.
For more information on “LGBTQ Life In Israel: A Progressing Journey,” visit www.bluestarpr.com