Hundreds of people on Tuesday demonstrated in Jerusalem against a group of newly elected Israeli lawmakers who oppose gay rights, in a Middle Eastern country seen as progressive in promoting LGBTQ equality.
A coalition of groups marched and held signs outside Israel’s parliament, where 120 lawmakers were being sworn in following elections last month.
The protesters included groups supporting women’s and LGBTQ rights, and others calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation.
Advocates have raised particular concern about a new far-right bloc of legislators called Religious Zionism, which won control of six seats.
Within that group are three members openly hostile to LGBTQ rights, including Avi Maoz, leader of the Noam party.
LGBTQ advocate Or Keshet said that Maoz had made demeaning homosexuality the centerpiece of his political career.
“Already during the 2019 elections, when it first appeared, Noam was targeting the LGBTQ community with humiliating slogans that bordered on incitement to hatred,” Keshet said ahead of Tuesday’s demonstration.
In a campaign clip from that election, Noam compared Reform Jews, left-wing advocates and LGBTQ rights advocates to Nazis, and accused them of wanting to “destroy” the Jewish people.
Running with a slogan calling for “a normal people in our land,” Noam opposes the recognition of gay and lesbian couples with children as families.
Other lawmakers from the Religious Zionism alliance have also espoused anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including Itamar Ben Gvir, one of the organizers of the 2006 “beast march” in Jerusalem, in which religious opponents of the Pride March strode with donkeys.
Religious Zionism has endorsed Netanyahu to form Israel’s next governing coalition.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday gave the prime minister a four-week mandate to do so.
Netanyahu also has the support of 16 lawmakers from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which openly oppose LGBTQ rights.
Israel recognizes gay marriages performed abroad, but homosexuality remains taboo in religious Jewish circles.
Keshet said that he feared “a step backward” on LGBTQ and women’s rights.
“We do not want these people to be part of the government and occupy key positions,” he said of the anti-gay lawmakers.
Advocates have also expressed concern about a possible rising influence of the conservative Islamic Raam party led by Mansour Abbas.
The party won control of four seats and Abbas could be a kingmaker in ongoing coalition negotiations.
In July last year, his party condemned a law banning controversial “conversion therapy,” which aims to change LGBTQ people’s sexual orientation and is widely considered a human rights violation.
“The problem is that the Israeli political system gives a lot of power to small groups, regardless of their real weight in society,” Keshet said.
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