Feminist Responsibility and GLBT Rights
Last week, hundreds of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews rioted against the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender community to protest a planned Pride March in Jerusalem. Many of the Haredi rioters set fires and threw stones at GLBT community members and their supporters. The rioters also called for the deaths of the leaders of the Jerusalem Open House, a GLBT advocacy center. The prospective marchers had indicated their willingness to modify their route and to contain any explicit behavior in deference to community sensibilities. However, any public display of their identity was deemed too much for the streets of Jerusalem. Though a few of the Haredi rioters were briefly detained at a police station, none of them were publicly condemned or punished for their violent acts. As a result of the heightened violence, the march was cancelled and instead, a small contained GLBT rally took place at the Hebrew University stadium while thirty gay activists were arrested for attempting to have a spontaneous march in a public space.To my mind, the fact that an inclusive, non-violent march celebrating GLBT identity was cancelled in order to satisfy the interests of violent, religious Jews is simply outrageous. It is inexcusable bigotry that undermines the tenets of freedom and respect in the Jewish tradition of which I am most proud.Israel prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East; a pluralistic country in which all Jews and Israeli-Arabs -- secular and religious, women and men, gay and straight -- should be able to express themselves freely and live in peace. Democracy is not about appeasing the wishes of a city's religious majority or allowing those in power to feel “comfortable” as others are silenced. Nor is democracy about cultivating an ultra-Orthodox hegemony of privilege and double-standards. Consider this: if a woman wears a tallit (a ritual prayer shawl traditionally worn by men) while praying at the Western Wall, she is not guaranteed protection from a physical assault. But if a black-hat rabbi incites violence against a lesbian by throwing stones at her, he is somehow exempt from an arrest. Why? Because he’s an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. Clearly, the Israeli public would not tolerate the same behavior from an Arab. But sadly, Haredi male privilege has become ingrained in Israeli society even though violent behavior is clearly not an expression of derech eretz (literally, “the way of the land” implying humane consideration and regard toward fellow human beings).Jews have endured a long history of oppression. Jewish women have experienced the dual challenge of fighting both anti-Semitism and sexism in the public arena. Add a lesbian identity to the mix and the challenge becomes even harder -- anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia are not easy prejudices to fight all at once, especially when these prejudices are often intertwined. It’s no secret that lesbian Jews have experienced anti-Semitism in the lesbian community and have experienced homophobia in the Jewish community as well. But despite the challenges, lesbian Jews exist in large numbers and have made remarkable contributions to Jewish life -- women like Joan Nestle founder of Lesbian Herstory Archives, Sharon Kleinbaum, rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (a gay and lesbian synagogue in NYC), and Shulamit Izen, a GLBT Jewish youth activist who established a Gay-Straight Alliance at her Jewish Day School. Like Nestle, I would hope that as Jewish women in touch with the richest challenges of our history, we would embrace the responsibility to speak out and assert that all people, including those in the GLBT community, have the right to live with dignity and have the right to be publicly proud. As Nestle writes: “I believe in a feminism that does not run from the full complexity of women’s lives, from the vital differences between us as well as the connections that bind us.” To yield to the Haredi standard of intolerance is to deny our own existence.Check out JWA's exhibit "Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution" to learn more about the ways in which Jewish women have advocated for the GLBT community.