Israel is considered the most progressive and tolerant country in the Middle East in terms of gay rights. In November 2005, a groundbreaking court decision in Israel ruled that a lesbian spouse could officially adopt a child born to her current partner, by artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor; this ruling was despite protests by the Orthodox Jewish parliamentary parties (which are a minority). Common law marriage has already been similarly achieved (which grants most of the official marriage rights to the spouse), but full official gay marriage has not yet been sanctioned. However, same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are recognized.

Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Cyprus are the only countries in the Middle East[1] where homosexuality between consenting adults in private is not illegal and homosexuals are not persecuted under law. In most other Middle Eastern countries homosexuality is illegal, often punishable by flogging and even hanging. Until 2007, Israel had also been the only country in Asia where homosexuals were protected by anti-discrimination laws. Israel remains the only one in the Middle East with such laws.

Out has named Tel Aviv "the gay capital of the Middle East."[2]

Military service

The armed forces of Israel allow service without any distinction based on sexual orientation. Since 1993, homosexuals have been allowed to openly serve in the military, including special units.

In 1956, two soldiers were put on military trial on charges of sexual intercourse 'against nature' and were supposed to be put in military prison for one year, but the punishment was reduced on the grounds that 'homosexuality is a disease, not a crime'. Until the late 80s, the commanders had to report to the military psychiatric department about homosexual soldiers. The vast majority of psychological and psychiatric organizations in Israel and worldwide no longer consider homosexuality to be a disease or defect.[citation needed]

Israeli youth who are exempt from military service can volunteer for national service. Since June 2006, The Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders in Israel (Agudah) qualifies as such a service. [1] However, a steadily increasing number of gay recruits do full military service, often in combat units. The Ma'ariv newspaper reported that one of the largest units in the Israeli army, an intelligence processing unit, is well known for the large number of uncloseted LGBT soldiers serving in it.

In a poll conducted in 2006, half of gay soldiers were found to be harassed during their army duty. Most cases involved verbal harassment.[3]


The State of Israel inherited its sodomy or "buggery" law from British influence, but there is no record that it was ever enforced against homosexual acts that took place between consenting adults in private. In 1963 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that this law could not be enforced; however, in certain cases defendants were found guilty of "sodomy" (which according to Israeli law includes oral sex as well), apparently by way of plea bargains: those defendants had been indicted for more serious sexual offences. There were also cases of soldiers tried for homosexual acts in military courts. The ban on consensual same-sex sexual acts was formally repealed by the national legislative assembly Knesset in 1988.[2] The age of consent for both heterosexuals and homosexuals is sixteen years of age.

Employment discrimination

In 1992 legislation was introduced to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with some exemptions for religious organizations.


Main article: Same-sex marriage in Israel
Main article: Civil unions in Israel

Israeli law recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It is the only country in the Middle East and all of Asia to do so. It does not, however, allow same-sex couples to marry. It should be noted that civil marriage doesn't exist in Israel for heterosexual couples, either, and therefore no marriage not sanctioned by religious authorities can take place within Israel. (This restriction forces not only gay couples, but also all mixed-religion heterosexual couples and any person who wishes a non religious marriage, to marry outside the country.)

The State of Israel allows foreign partners of its homosexual citizenry to receive residency permits. The Civil Service Commission extends spousal benefits and pensions to the partners of homosexual employees. The Israeli State Attorney's Office has extended the spousal exemption from property-transfer taxes to same-sex couples. Israel's attorney general has granted legal recognition to same-sex couples in financial and other business matters. Attorney General Meni Mazuz said the couples will be treated the same as common-law spouses, recognizing them as legal units for tax, real estate, and financial purposes. Mazuz made his decision by refusing to appeal a district court ruling in an inheritance case that recognized the legality of a same-sex union, his office said in a statement. Mazuz did differentiate, however, between recognizing same-sex unions for financial and practical purposes, as he did, and changing the law to officially sanction the unions, which would be a matter for parliament, according to the statement.

The city of Tel Aviv recognizes unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, as family units and grants them discounts for municipal services. Under the bylaw, unmarried couples qualify for the same discounts on day care and the use of swimming pools, sports facilities, and other city-sponsored activities that married couples enjoy.

On January 29, 2007, following a Supreme Court ruling ordering them to do so, Jerusalem registered its first gay couple, Avi and Binyamin Rose. [3]


On January 10, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that a lesbian couple is able to legally adopt each other's children. During the past 15 years that Tal and Avital Yaros-Hakak have lived together, they have had a total of three children. The couple petitioned the Tel Aviv Family Court for the right to formally adopt each other's children in 1997, but the request was rejected because Israel's adoption law had no provisions for same-sex couples. The couple appealed. While they failed to get a favorable ruling in the Tel Aviv District Court, the Supreme Court accepted the case. Citing Article 25 of the Adoption Law, the Yaros-Hakaks argued that the law allows for "special circumstances" for adoption when it is for the good of the child, even if the child's parents are still alive. The only condition is that the person seeking to adopt be single. The couple argued that since the state does not recognize same-sex marriage, they are single by law. The Yaros-Hakaks added that adoption was in the best interest of the children if one of their natural mothers should die. The Supreme Court of Israel agreed, ruling 7-2 in favor of the couple.

Following the supreme court ruling, a lesbian couple was allowed to adopt each other's biological children on February 12, 2006. Before that, gay partners of parents were granted guardianship over their partner's children.


Since the 1970s there has been an active gay rights movement that has often affiliated itself with the Israeli feminist movement and various liberal and social democratic political parties.[4]

Today, Israel's Labor Party, Meretz-Yachad (and previously the now-defunct Shinui party) all support gay rights. Other minor liberal or progressive political parties support a similar platform as well.

Nevertheless, there still have been anti-gay politicians. In 1997, President Ezer Weizman compared homosexuality to alcoholism in front of high school students.[5] This provoked major controversy and the President received numerous calls from civil rights activists and liberal Knesset members. Shortly following, 300 people demonstrated outside of Weizman's residence, demanding his resignation.[6]

On February 20, 2008, Shlomo Benizri, a Knesset member from the Shas party, a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ruling coalition, blamed earthquakes that had recently struck the Middle East on the activities of homosexuals. Benizri said in a Knesset plenary session, ""Why do earthquakes happen? .. One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy." He recommended that instead of merely reinforcing buildings to withstand earthquakes, the government should pass legislation to outlaw "perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples." Benizri stated that "A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes."[7]

Community visibility

File:Tel Aviv Gay Pride.jpg

Gay Pride parade in Tel Aviv, 2004

Israel has an active gay community, with well attended annual gay pride festivals [4] held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since 1998. Pride events are also held regularly in Haifa, Beer Sheva, Eilat and Rosh Pina.

The Jerusalem parade gained international coverage when three marchers were stabbed in 2005. The perpetrator was subsequently sentenced to twelve years in prison. [5] An attempt by Jerusalem's mayor, a Haredi Jew, to thwart Jerusalem pride in June 2005 had been challenged in the courts. The mayor lost and was ordered to contribute funds to the event.[6]

The LGBT community in Israel was also brought to the media's attention following the winning of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 by Dana International, an Israeli transexual.

The World Pride Festival[7] was planned for Jerusalem in August 2005, despite protests and opposition from members of the three major religions in Jerusalem. However, it was postponed due to Israel's pull out from Gaza Strip, which required the presence of most Israeli police forces and would thus leave the parade with little to no security. However, that parade had been plagued with threats of violence, as well as consistent grandstanding against it by some Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders and members of the Knesset.[8]

In November 2006, more than two thousand members of the Haredi community jammed into streets in an Orthodox neighbourhood in a show of force aimed at pressuring authorities into cancelling the gay pride parade to be held in Jerusalem. About a dozen people have been reported injured.[9]

Israel is one of only eleven foreign countries to have a chapter of the U.S. PFLAG group called TEHILA.

Palestinian issues

Some Palestinian gays and lesbians are reported to be hiding illegally in Israel in order to escape extreme intolerance, physical abuse, death, or disowning by their families that they face in their communities. Significant expatriate groups exist in Tel Aviv and Netanya, where many live with their Israeli partners who help keep their presence in Israel hidden from the police (who would pursue them not for their sexual orientation, but for illegal stay in the country).[10],[11],[12]

It has also been reported that many in the Palestinian community equate homosexuality with collaboration with Israel. After Palestinian gay men run away, some of them are recruited by the Israeli Security Forces in exchange for financial or administrative favors such as the right of residence. If and when they return to their hometowns, they are often accused of being collaborators and are greatly discriminated against, sometimes arrested and tortured. Even suspicion of collaboration can mean death from fellow Palestinians [13]. One man who returned to Nablus was thrown in a pit and starved to death.[14] A 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressured by the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to become a suicide bomber in order to ‘purge his moral guilt’, although he had refused. Because of such instances, some Palestinians who are illegally residing Israel are considered security threats and live under virtual house arrest. Some others who do not hold legal residency in Israel hustle as prostitutes. In order to remain out of prison, gay men who remain in Palestinian areas often work as Palestinian police agents to "ferret out" other homosexuals in the region. There are an estimated 300-600 Palestinian homosexuals who have (legally and illegally) found refuge in Israel. [15][16][17]

In 2003, Aswat was founded, which describes itself as a Palestinian lesbian support group. However, the group is headquartered in Haifa, Israel, and is geared toward Arab lesbians in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A secret association of Aswat was founded in Ramallah in March 2007 by four gay students.[18] The Israeli Jerusalem Open House has opened up an Arab chapter called Alqaws, which reaches out to gay and lesbian Palestinians.



  • Etai Pinkas (formerly Meretz Party), member of the Tel Aviv City Council is openly gay. He is also a former Executive Director of The Agudah, an Israeli GLBT rights organization headquartered in the center of downtown Tel Aviv.
  • Uzi Even (Meretz Party), is an openly gay, former member of Knesset and a professor of chemistry in Tel Aviv University.
  • Yossi Avni-Levy is one of several senior Israeli diplomats who are openly gay. Aside from serving as consul in several European countries, he published three successful books (short stories, novellas and a novel) about gay themes under a pseudonym, before finally coming out.
  • Saar-Ran Netanel (Meretz Party), member of the Jerusalem City Council is openly gay.
  • Carsten Damsgaard, Danish ambassador to Israel, is openly gay.
  • On Holocaust Memorial Day 2006, gays and lesbians in Israel were invited to participate in Holocaust memorial services in Europe, acknowledging the tragic persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis. [19]
  • Israel was one of six members of a United Nations committee that supported the Coalition Gaie et Lesbienne du Québec (Coalition of Gays and Lesbians of Quebec) having consultative status with the United Nations. The other five in favor were Colombia, Peru, Romania, Britain and the United States; and against were Burundi, China, Egypt, Guinea, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Sudan. With the majority against, the group's credentials were rejected.[20]
  • Israeli film producers and life partners, Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky, have included gay themes in some of their films: Walk on Water, Yossi and Jagger, and The Bubble.[21]

Other court rulings

  • The Supreme Court ruled that the partner of a gay employee at El Al, Israel's national airline, is entitled to free airline tickets just as the spouse of any heterosexual employee is.
  • The Supreme Court recognized a lesbian as the adoptive mother of the four-year-old son of her same-sex partner, and ordered the Interior Ministry to register the adoption.
  • An Israeli family court on March 17, 2002 turned down an application from a lesbian couple to have their partnership union declared legal. The couple was united in a civil ceremony in Germany. The women wanted the court to recognize their partnership as a civil marriage, under Israeli law. The court said that since the women are not recognized as a family under Israeli law, the court is not authorized to rule on their case. A government lawyer who was asked by the court to give a legal opinion on the case on behalf of the Israeli government said that the state objected to granting the request.
  • On December 14, 2004, the Nazareth District Court ruled that same-sex couples have the same rights as married couples in inheritance rights. This ruling overturned a Family Court ruling that an elderly man from Kiryat Shmona was not entitled to spousal rights. The man had sought the estate of his late partner, with whom he lived for several decades. The Nazareth judges ruled that the term "man and woman" as spelled out in Israel's inheritance law also includes same sex couples. Judges Nissim Maman and Gabriela Levy, who issued the majority opinion, based their decision on a loose interpretation of the term "partner" as defined in other court rulings, such as those dealing with issues related to employee benefits, and thus applied the interpretation to the inheritance law. The acting president of the Nazareth District Court, Menachem Ben-David, issued the minority opinion, arguing that the legal text should not be interpreted "contrary to the lingual significance." A government spokesperson said the ruling will be appealed.
  • In December 2004, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the government cannot deport the Colombian partner of a gay Israeli man. The 32-year-old Colombian entered Israel on a visitors visa which has long expired and the Interior Ministry had ordered him deported. His partner is an Israeli citizen and a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The couple filed an emergency petition with the Tel Aviv District Court. The men were represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Judge Uzi Vogelman ruled that the government had acted illegally in attempting to deport the man. In 1999 Supreme Court ruling established that the ministry could not deport foreign nationals married to Israeli citizens. Vogelman's decision extends that to apply to common-law marriages, including same-sex couples.
  • In March 2008, Israel's Interior Ministry granted a gay Palestinian from Jenin a rare residency permit to live with his partner of 8 years in Tel Aviv after he said his sexuality put his life in danger in the West Bank.[22]

See also


  1. Since there is no single, widely-accepted definition of the boundaries of the Middle East, not all experts agree on the question whether Turkey and Cyprus are considered parts of this region.
  2. James Kirchick. "Was Arafat Gay?", Out. 
  3. Poll: 52% of gay soldiers sexually harassed in IDF, Jerusalem Post, 2006-10-22
  4. Queer in the Land of Sodom
  5. Silver, Ian. Homosexuality And Judaism
  6. Israeli president apologizes for his anti-gay statements
  7. Shas MK blames gays for recent earthquakes in the region

External links

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