Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Zionism, Nationalism and all the Jazz

I was brought up with what I would call a very "radical" Zionist, world view and values. My parents were admirers of the slain extreme right-wing leader Meir Kahane. The short version of the "Kahanist" world view is as follows.
1. "God" gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people and we must retake it by force to bring the messiah.

2. The world is divided into two groups, Jews and those that hate or will hate Jews.

3. The Jewish government of Israel should be based on Jewish religious law.

4. There is no place for non Jews in Israel.
When people would sit around and discuss how we thought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved, me and my family would paraphrase Kahane and say "the nice ones (Arabs) can leave on air conditioned buses". Growing up, I believed in this world view 100%.

As I wrote before, I moved to Israel at 17 to fulfill the Zionist mission. I wanted to join the army and fight Israel's enemies. I voted for political parties that advocated the transfer of Arabs from Israel as part of a finale "peace" plane. I believed anyone that did not agree with the world view that I was brought up with was at best not a real Zionist, and at worst a traitor. Radical Zionism was a huge part of my upbringing and a huge part of who I was. My feeling of Israeli nationalism was second to none.

When I first told my parents that I was no longer religious, one of the first things they said to me was, "so you are no longer a Zionist?!" I was hurt by this accusation. Of course I was still a Zionist. I thought that was such an absurd thing to say. What did god have to do with nationalism? There were plenty of secular Zionists in Israel. Israel was built by secular Zionists. Nationalism exists in literally every country on earth and often has little or nothing to do with religion.

But as time passed, and I started to apply my new rational, humanistic and realistic values to more and more topics, my feelings of nationalism faded. I stopped seeing the world as divided into arbitrary groups. What is the difference between a Jew, an Arab, a German, or an Indian? We are all human. I do not feel a need to only be around people that are similar looking to me, or have a similar social/genetic background. There are non Jews in the world that I love very dearly. Why am I less connected to them than I am to some Jewish person living far away from me that I never met?

I realize now that my parents were right, religion was an important part of my Zionism for two reasons. The first reason was that it gave me the "Jews vs. the world" attitude. Second, it allowed me to believe that there was an end to the conflict. I believed that if Israel just did x,y and z, the messiah would come and everything would be perfect. Today, I realize that as long as the conflict is about who's fairy tails are more "accurate", the conflict will never end.

So where do I stand today? I do think that Israel has a right to exists and should exist. Sadly most of the world still sees humanity as divided into different groups; nations, religions, races, ethnicity, etc. These make-believe divisions are the sources of many wars, conflicts and genocides around the world. If Israel did not exists, Jews would be a lot more vulnerable to another genocide, just like the many genocides that happened through out the history of the Jewish religion. However, this does not justify Israel mistreating Arabs or any other non Jews. I think that as long as religion is such a powerful force in the Middle East and the world, this conflict will never end. And frankly, I think that shows how pathetic humanity is sometimes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Dangerous New Trend

In the last few weeks there has been a disgusting (yet not surprising) new trend among some of Israel's "elite" to publicly trash gays. The first shot was fired my a member of the Kenneset (Israel's parliament) named Anastassia Michaeli. She said that most gays were abused as children and grow up as depressed people who commit suicide by the age of 40. She also expressed alarm at the fact that her children can hear about gays when they watch TV. A few days later, another member of the Kenneset by the name of Uri Ariel called on the Israeli Military to stop enlisting gays. His idea is that since "god" wants to kill gays, it is dangerous for them to be around heterosexual soldiers.

It is obvious to anyone with even a tinniest bit of intelligence that the statements made by these two parliamentary is nothing but absolute stupidity. Michaeli could simply see the large number of gays that are around and in public life above the age of 40 and the HUGE amount of gays that were never sexually abused and know that she is wrong. But facts are not that important to someone that just wants to spew hate. And for a religious man, Ariel does not have much faith in his god's aim. Apparently he is worried that he will miss when trying to smite a homosexual and hit a straight soldier. (Never mind the fact that "god" also wants to kill people that don't keep the sabbath and the majority of soldiers in the army do not). But just because both of these people are ridiculously dumb individuals, does not mean that there fame does not give them influence.

In our society, for better or worse, when famous people speak everyone listens. When US President Barak Obama said that he supports marriage equality, polls showed a rise in support for marriage equality across African American communities. That was the "for the better" part. The "for the worse part" comes through in articles like this one in Israel after the two homophobic MKs made their opinions public: "Whoever Does Not Fight Their Lust, How Can They Fight Against The Enemy".

The article is in Hebrew, so I will summarize it for my readers that do not read Hebrew. Basically the article says that the army is for winners and gays are inherently losers because they have given into their evil urges. And this article was not published by some extreme "ultra-orthodox" or hassidic website. The website that published this hateful trash is a "modern-orthodox", "main stream", "down to earth" website. But homophobia in the parliament has empowered the haters to come out and spread their poison - and hate tends to spread very quickly.

Why can't people disagree and disapprove of something/someone without trying to harm those they disagree and disapprove of? I do not like religion, but I would never claim it should be outlawed or that religious people should have less rights. Why do those people that disapprove of homosexuality constantly try and make LGBTQ people second class citizens, if not criminals?

Ms. Michaeli, if you do not want your children to know about homosexuality, you are more than welcome to move to Iran. And as for Mr. Ariel, gays fight and die in the army the same way heterosexuals do. I was a "lone soldier" and served in the tank corp. I served 3 years in the army (more than many "god fearing" soldiers serve) and always did what I was commanded to the best of my ability. I was even sent into Lebanon in 2006. My homosexuality never had an effect on anything or anyone. But don't let facts get in the way of your stupidity and bigotry.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Let's Celebrate Our Freedom" - Post Parade Report

What a wonderful Pride Day (it was Friday the 8th of the month, but I am only finding time to write about it now). I arrived at the starting grounds at Gan Meir in Tel Aviv with my friend Jessica at about 1230pm. The place was packed and full of wonderful energy. The first thing I did was buy a Rainbow flag and than we met up with some other friends and a group people that were interviewing me and filming me for a school project. One of the real treats of the day was that my great friend Long, whom I have written about about in previous posts (and who is straight) was in Israel and came along to show his support. At about 1pm we started to march.
Me and my flag at Gan Meir
Starting to March

The parade was an amazing experience. Around 100,000 people marching, smiling and having fun. There was no hate and no counter protests. Just tens of thousands of people celebrating their pride, joined by their friends, families and supporters. Watching all the smiling faces, the drag queens, the happy couples, the eccentrically dressed people, one could not help but feel celebration and joy in the air.

Tziona Patriot and Talula Bonet

Marchers on stilts

Supportive onlookers 

The view of the parade from above

The parade ended at the beach, where there was a massive party and concert. Everywhere you looked there were people (and many of them gorgeous ;)) dancing and having a good time. On stage, DJs, dancers and drag queens took turns entertaining and energizing the crowd. One of the highlights of the day came during the concert. The wonderful drag queen Talula Bonet was on stage, dancing to the music. She called out a few times, "Everyone raise your hands. Everyone raise your hands." Than she said "Let's celebrate our freedom". With those words, an energy went through the crowd. Everywhere you looked people were dancing, cheering and waving rainbow flags in the air. My friend Long looked at me with an expression of awe on his face and said, "that was really cool". And that is why we were all there. The Middle East is a war torn area of the world and a haven for hate, radicals and fundamentalists. But not Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the one major city in the entire region where a parade like this could have taken place. It is the one city where LGBTQ people could come together and celebrate their freedom, and not have to demand it.
Talula and some back up dancers on stage at the beach

What made the day even more special for me was that I got to share it with friends that I love. This was my first pride parade and it really meant a lot to me. Most of my friends that were there with me are straight, but they came out to show their support. Even the friends that got lost in the huge crowd and that I did not get to spend much time with, seeing them for just a little bit meant a lot. So to my dear friends, I just want to say thank you. It was a day I will never forget :)
Me and my friends Nadav, Gavy, Jessica and Long
at the beach party

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Happy Pride Month

Its now June and in Tel Aviv that means it is "Pride Month". The city is covered in rainbow flags and tourist from around the globe descend on the city. Since last year Tel Aviv was named the world's number one gay destination, I imagine this year will be bigger than ever. More tourists, more events, more parties, more fun.

However, is Pride Month supposed to be about parties? A friend pointed out to me that the Pride Parade (and Pride Month) are not supposed to be about good times and parties. My friend told me that the real Pride Parades with meaning are in Jerusalem and Haifa. He have said that Tel Aviv has lost the meaning behind these important events. When I was told this, it made me think. As the readers of my blog know, I am very aware of the importance of gay pride. I have written about it in previous posts. Am I wrong for looking forward to all the fun? Did Pride Month in Tel Aviv really lose its meaning?

After thinking about these questions for a bit, I came to the conclusion that Tel Aviv is simply ahead of Jerusalem, Haifa and other conservative cities. When you walk down the street in central Tel Aviv, chances are you will see two men or two women walking and holding hands. They can do this without fear of being attacked or ridiculed. (This is true for the most part. There are always going to be a few hateful nuts out there). The mayor and the city council are proud and supportive of the city's LGBT population. In honor of Pride Month, the city is covered with rainbow flags and even a cross walk was given a makeover in a sign of solidarity. Tel Avivan's are a bit spoiled by the openness and tolerance of their city. There isn't a need to demand acceptance, because they have it.

While the situation in Tel Aviv might be great, this is not the case for the rest of the country. Tel Avivans should remember that they do not live in a bubble and that the fight for acceptance and tolerance in the rest of the country is still an uphill battle. 

A mere 50 minute drive down Highway 1, Jerusalem is the polar opposite of Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, the pride parade is extremely controversial. Every year the police wonder if they could guarantee everyone's safety. "Religious leaders" from Islam, Judaism and Christianity stop fighting each other and unite behind their mutual hatred of gays. In Jerusalem, LGBT people must take to the streets and show that they will not be chased away or forced to hide who they are. They must show that they are not ashamed of who they are.

But while the fight for acceptance rages on in the rest of the country, I think it is OK for Tel Aviv to celebrate the progress made over the years. After all, Tel Aviv was not always the oasis of tolerance that it is now. It truly is amazing that in an area of the world like the Middle East where gays are put to death in 5 near by countries, a city like Tel Aviv exists. My advice to those that see a lack of meaning in Tel Avi's Pride month is to party in Tel Aviv, but also take the time to travel to a city like Jerusalem and march in their parade as well. Enjoy what you have in Tel Aviv and than try and bring it to the rest of the country.