Forward Thinking

The Pinkwashing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir

By Sigal Samuel

An undated family handout picture of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

Now that Israeli police have arrested six Jewish suspects for the kidnap-murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, it’s safe to say that the teen was not killed by his own family for being gay.

Of course, Mohammed’s family has been saying that all along. They’ve been saying it ever since the burned-alive teen’s body was found in the Jerusalem Forest on July 2. “Our family is not involved in any disputes and he was a good boy,” one cousin told Haaretz. “This is not a family problem. This was a kidnapping and everyone has to know that.” So why did Israeli media outlets insist on floating the “honor killing” theory?

It’s not clear who started the rumor that Khdeir’s family murdered him for being gay. Many believe that it was the Israeli police who first fed this line to journalists — primarily in off-the-record briefings, and primarily to right-leaning outlets who would be willing to quote them as unnamed sources.

Whether or not that’s true, the media’s willingness to play along, combined with the police’s insistence on keeping the true details of the investigation under strict gag orders, allowed a baseless theory to spread far and wide among a credulous public. It was particularly popular with those Israel supporters who would rather believe this grisly murder was the work of Palestinians (“see, they even kill their own family members!”) than of fellow Jews.

What’s the upshot? Well, let me put it this way. The next time a pinkwashing conference rolls into town, I can pretty well guarantee that there will be a panel discussion with the name “Mohammed Abu Khdeir” in the title.

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'Pinkwashing' Washed Out at Toronto Gay Pride

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

“I knished a girl and I liked it.”

That placard, waved by a member of Toronto Jewish gay group Kulanu, captured the spirit of yesterday’s massive WorldPride parade in Canada’s largest city: Joyful, fearless and boisterously irreverent.

About 100 Kulanu participants joined an estimated 12,000 marchers cheered by more than a million spectators on Toronto’s Yonge Street, according to reports this morning. The parade capped ten days of cultural and social-justice programs whose Jewish components included several Shabbat dinners, prayer services and a panel featuring Shai Doitsh and Itay Harlap, two leading figures in Israel’s LGBT movement.

Doitsh told Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy that his WorldPride experience was “amazing… The Canadians not only played a very important role in our fight for equality [in Israel] but our communities and our journey is quite similar. We can work together and learn from each other.” Levy — an out lesbian Jewish political columnist at the right-leaning Sun — wrote that she herself marched with Kulanu, wife in tow.

The march’s exuberance overshadowed controversy around a group called Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid, which marched despite protests by Jewish groups and some Toronto legislators. QUAIA has pushed for a place in the march for years, and the group got a boost in 2013 when a City of Toronto panel ruled the organization’s message did not represent discrimination towards the Jewish community. Stakes were also higher this year because of the global stage that WorldPride provided.

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No, LGBT Inclusion Isn't Just Window-Dressing

By Idit Klein

Transgender Jews celebrate Shabbat at a California synagogue

My friend and colleague Jay Michaelson’s op-ed “Include Me Out of This Jewish Community” calls into question the value and utility of “LGBT inclusion” in the mainstream Jewish community. I agree with some of Michaelson’s overarching points that being included in the mainstream without participating in fundamental change lacks meaning. But my experiences working for full equality and inclusion for LGBT Jews for the past 14 years as Executive Director of Keshet have led me to a radically different conclusion than Michaelson’s.

I do not believe that inclusion of LGBT people simply translates to the status quo with queer window-dressing. When LGBT Jews get a seat at the table, we have the chance to change not just the seating order, but the very structure of the table itself.

When a transgender rabbinical student is brought on as the rabbinic intern at a traditional Conservative shul, the look, feel and structure of the institution starts to shift.

When a Jewish film festival turns to a transmasculine Keshet leader who grew up poor to speak on a panel about Israeli women’s films, I see rigid conceptions of gender start to soften.

When a federation hosts a Keshet program and our staff explain why we are putting “All-Gender” bathroom signs up, the Jewish establishment begins to look different.

This month, I will be speaking at several Pride Shabbat services around the country and will challenge the congregations I meet to think critically about who is absent from their community and why; who is seen and who remains invisible. When people remain engaged in these conversations, the gulf between the margins and the mainstream begins to close. I believe LGBT Jews can change the Jewish community from the inside out. It is happening already.

Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet.

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Israel Loves Gay Cash — Just Not Gay Marriage

By Emily L. Hauser

Israelis take part in Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade in 2011 / Getty Images

What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?

Bingo!

With the annual Gay Pride parade scheduled for this Friday, Tel Aviv’s hotels are doing booming business, and anyone who didn’t book a room in advance is probably out of luck.

The Marker, Haaretz’s daily business section, reported on Wednesday that

Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride parade… is expected to bring 5,000-7,000 gay and lesbian tourists to the city…. Hotel occupancy rates are high, with prices rising accordingly.

… “[Gay tourists] live well and they eat well, in particular they eat healthier,” says Omer Miller, co-owner of [two Tel Aviv restaurants] that fly the pride flag every year. “Gay tourists also leave really big tips. Not every tourist in Israel comes to celebrate; [Pride Week visitors] really come for a week of partying.”

… According to a hotel manager in the city, “It’s the busiest time of the year…. There are guests who made reservations six months ago. I’ve known for three months that I’m completely full.”

City Hall has gotten in on the act, cooperating with local hotels to promote Tel Aviv as a gay travel destination, not least because — unlike visitors who come on pilgrimage — Pride tourists tend to stay in boutique hotels, rent cars and go shopping. Moreover, life on the Mediterranean presents an opportunity for year-round event planning that’s impossible in Europe. If Tel Aviv plays its cards right, folks who visit in June might very well come back in January.

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How Many Gay Haredim Are Married to Women?

By Emily L. Hauser

An Israeli lesbian dressed up as an ultra-Orthodox Jew at the annual Gay Pride event / Getty Images

What do you do if you’re ultra-Orthodox and gay? You almost certainly hide.

On Thursday, Israeli daily Yediot reported new figures released by religious-gay support group Hod indicating that “two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox homosexuals [in Israel] have chosen to marry women despite their sexual inclination”; almost all of the more than 1,100 men included in Hod’s report admitted to having sex with other men at least once a month.

According to Hod founder Ron Yosef, an Orthodox rabbi and gay activist:

The situation of homosexuals in the Haredi society is much more difficult because of the social isolation they live in. A gay Haredi man cannot share his situation with his friends in the community or the yeshiva, his family members or rabbis, and “coming out of the closet” is definitely inconceivable.

It should be noted that Hod’s statistics are based on information received from gay ultra-Orthodox men who turned to the organization for help — which is to say: They reflect a self-selecting population, men who have heard of the group and reached a level of stress, or degree of openness, that would allow them to reach out. It’s hard to know how much the two-thirds figure actually tells us about the lived reality of gay Haredi men, but then, that’s a community about which it would be particularly hard to produce solid polling results.

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Don't Rent Apartments to Lesbians, Says Rabbi

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

“A nice girl came to me and expressed interest in renting my apartment. She also informed me that she was in a relationship with a woman. Given her relationship status, is there a Jewish law preventing me from renting the apartment to her?”

When this question was recently posted to one of Israel’s popular religious internet forums, Ramat Gan’s chief municipal rabbi Yaakov Ariel had this to say:

“If the two women want to rent the apartment together, don’t rent it to them. If just one of them wants to rent it, you can let her — but only if you have no better option.”

There you have it: proof that housing discrimination is alive and well in Israel, the country that likes to bill itself as a haven for the LGBT community.

It’s an incredibly disappointing response, of course. Disappointing to think that prominent rabbis are going around saying, as Rabbi Ariel did in a follow-up interview, that lesbian relationships are “unnatural” and that property owners don’t need to make themselves party to such “strange things.”

Disappointing to think they’re inculcating in Jews the belief that “Jewish law doesn’t look kindly on couples like that,” without bothering to add any sort of nuance, like the fact that lesbian relationships don’t really become an issue in Judaism until Maimonides gets around to them in the 12th century.

Disappointing to think that if my girlfriend and I were to try and rent an apartment in Israel, daring to be as honest and forthcoming as the would-be tenant mentioned above apparently was, we could easily be discriminated against.

Disappointing — but not at all surprising. Because this rabbi’s don’t-rent-to-lesbians policy is just the latest in a series of similar rabbinic responses coming out of Israel over the past few years. Remember the don’t-rent-to-Arabs policy? Or how about the don’t-rent-to-Ethiopians policy?

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How Uganda Helped Me Mark Passover

By Sonia Daccarett

Getty Images

Freedom is always a primary theme on Passover, but this year, after travelling in Uganda for ten days as part of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Global Justice Fellowship, the idea is heavy with real-world implications.

The Haggadah instructs: “In every generation, everyone must think of him or herself as having personally left Egypt.” And yet, some of the people we met in Uganda remain trapped in their own Egypt: LGBT people are ostracized, threatened and assaulted for being who they are; women and girls are beaten and raped; people living with HIV and AIDS are isolated and abandoned by their families and communities.

The idea that all human beings are of infinite value and are created in God’s image — B’tselem Elohim — is a pillar of Jewish tradition. And yet, so many of the struggles we witness every day — in the United States, in Uganda, and elsewhere around the world — require that we pursue human dignity in a global context.

As I prepared for the trip, I studied materials about Uganda with the other Global Justice Fellows in my group, drawing upon my own experiences growing up in Colombia and travelling in many parts of the world. I read about the activists and projects in Uganda that AJWS supports and brushed up on facts. But nothing could have prepared me for the courage, ingenuity and dignity I encountered once I arrived.

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Jewish Brides Make British Gay Marriage History

By Daniella Peled

Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit / Courtesy of Nicola Pettit

(Haaretz) — Tania Ward and Nicola Pettit will make history this Saturday when they become one of the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Britain.

More than that, their marriage will be among the first to receive a Jewish blessing, as Liberal and Reform streams prepare for a flurry of simchas to follow the change of law.

Since 2005, the United Kingdom has allowed civil partnerships which give the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage.

Campaigners, however, continued to lobby for full equality, facing opposition from conservative politicians and religious communities despite broad public backing. The new law comes into effect on Saturday March 29.

The couple, who live in southern England’s seaside Brighton resort, one of the country’s most bohemian centers of LGBT life, met when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date six-and-a-half years ago. “And that was that, really,” says 27-year-old Nicola.

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Fighting Anti-Gay Hate on Purim

By Barney Frank

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Getty Images.

The ancient rabbi Hillel famously asked: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” I feel it is important to answer the first two questions in the way Hillel hoped—that we must stand up for both ourselves and for others. (After 40 years as a legislator, my answer to the third is “as soon as we have the votes.”)

On Purim, Jews remember the oppression we faced and overcame in ancient Persia and throughout our history. With Hillel’s questions in mind, we must rededicate ourselves to combating anti-Semitism throughout the world and to combating the oppression of others.

Today one of the most important ways to combat the oppression of others is to work against the terrible wave of homophobia that is oppressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in several African countries. While this prejudice is powerful, we should not paint the whole continent with this brush. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela demonstrated his unsurpassed commitment to defending human rights for all by including in the South African constitution recognition of the right of LGBT people to be free from discrimination. But sadly, Mandela’s example is not always honored.

As a member of Congress, I did what I could to combat the oppression of LGBT people in Africa. I was successful in getting my colleagues on the Financial Services Committee to adopt an amendment urging the U.S. Treasury Department to oppose World Bank loans to countries which — like Uganda at the time, and Nigeria since — denied the basic humanity of LGBT people. I am proud to note that my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, despite their understandable strong support of aid for Africa, agreed that we should not support loans to countries that sanction bigotry.

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Battle Over Purim Children's Book With Two Dads

By Julie Wiener

(JTA) — The line between respecting diverse religious beliefs and violating the rights and dignity of gays and lesbians is at the center of a debate between gay advocates and the PJ Library over a children’s picture book featuring a family with two fathers.

“The Purim Superhero,” by Elisabeth Kushner, was published by Kar-Ben Publishing last year after the manuscript won a contest for Jewish-themed books with LGBT characters sponsored by Keshet, a Jewish LGBT advocacy group. It’s about a boy who turns to his two fathers for advice after his Hebrew school classmates tell him he can’t dress up as an alien for Purim.

PJ Library, the popular program that distributes free Jewish children’s books in North America and beyond, selected it as one of its featured books this month, but as an extra book distributed only to those who requested it — which, apparently, many parents did: All 2,200 copies PJ had purchased were requested within 36 hours, according to an article in The Boston Globe.

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Now They Come for the Gays

By Sharon Kleinbaum and Yelena Goltsman

The Jewish community should feel a sense of déjà vu as it witnesses the government-sponsored persecution of LGBT people in Russia. We should respond with a statement of determination nearly as familiar to us as the Shema: Never again.

In the 1960s, with our awareness of the Holocaust very fresh in our memory, American Jews took seriously Soviet scapegoating of Russian Jewry and the efforts to destroy the Russian Jewish community. In 2013, in Putin’s Russia, gays are the new Jews.

In his assault on democratic institutions in Russia, Vladimir Putin is counting on xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Western and anti-immigrant sentiments to turn the Russian people against anybody perceived to be different. Government-run media supports these policies. The precious few independent media outlets cannot compete with Putin’s huge propaganda machine. This, along with the infamous new law banning the spread of “nontraditional sexual relations,” all but silences LGBT people in Russia.

Act Up’s slogan “Silence = Death” comes from recent U.S. history, when coming out and speaking out were essential to changing public views of homosexuality and to mobilizing response to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. If you are gay in Russia in 2013, it is no longer lawful to affirm who you are, even in front of your own children.

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A Trailblazing Cantor

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Marc Goldman

In many ways, Mark Goldman’s a traditional cantor. He serves a 900-member Reform congregation, in Plantation, Florida. He’s performed around the world, including a historic group gig at the Vatican. And he loves to chant the “haunting, yet familiar” Kol Nidre.

But this year, the UK expat became a trailblazer. After nearly two decades as a member, Goldman was elected president of the American Conference of Cantors, making him the first openly gay chazzan to hold the post.

Descended from a long line of cantors, the yeshiva-educated Goldman came out to his parents at age 27 — three years after emigrating to the States. He took on his first cantorial position at Temple Kol Ami, which later merged with Temple Emanu-El of Fort Lauderdale. Nineteen years later, he’s become a beloved fixture on the South Florida Jewish scene.

The Forward caught up with Goldman from the home he shares with interior designer Aaron Taber, his partner of 17 years.

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Gay Jewish Trailblazers Set Forward 50 Mark

By Anne Cohen

For the first time ever, the Forward 50 was launched with a profile celebrating a gay Jewish woman — and the kvelling was just starting for gay Jewish achievers.

Edie Windsor made the Top 5 for her role in the fight for marriage equality: on June 26, she won her suit at the Supreme Court, a decision that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

While the most visible victory for gay rights this year, it was far from the only one, a fact reflected in this year’s list. Six of the honorees are gay, reflecting a more general acceptance of gays in the wider Jewish community, as well as the prominence of Jews in the struggle for equality.

“As a former F50 honoree myself, I think it’s a combination of two factors,” Jay Michaelson, author of “God vs. Gay: The Religious Case for Equality,” wrote in an email to the Forward. “The struggle for equality is among the great civil rights issues of our time, and so it’s natural that those involved with it are recognized in this way.”

Three of the honorees won their place on the list because of their work promoting LGBT issues. As executive director of Keshet, Idit Klein has turned what started as a grassroots group advocating the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Jewish life into a national organization that has educators in more than 200 communities around the country; Alan Van Capelle has a long record of fighting for gay rights and headed a New York lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights lobby before stepping in as CEO of Bend the Arc.

But Michaelson identified a second trend at work, namely that “more LGBT people are out of the closet — there were almost certainly past honorees whose sexual identities were unknown to us.”

Three of the honorees reflect precisely that: Glenn Greenwald, Harvey Fierstein and Mitchell Davis were all chosen for their outstanding contribution to their respective fields: Greenwald for breaking one of the biggest stories of the last decade; Fierstein for his Midas touch when it comes to Broadway hits, and Davis for his achievements in the tasty realm of Jewish food. In the past, they would have been recognized for their achievements, completely independent from their sexuality, but with a part of their identity cloaked in silence.

It’s a small step in the right direction.

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Untold Stories of the 'T' Folks in LGBT

By Naomi Zeveloff

Emily Aviva Kapor

This week, the Forward launched our month-long series on the lives of transgender Jews. Our project kicked off with six profiles of transgender rabbis and rabbinical students.

As the editor of the series, I first became interested in transgender issues after I spent a year reporting on gay and lesbian inclusion in Jewish settings. In the past several decades, the non-Orthodox Jewish world has made enormous strides in welcoming gays and lesbians as congregants, rabbis and community leaders.

But there are still many questions regarding inclusion, particularly when it comes to halacha, or Jewish law. For instance, after the Conservative movement officially sanctioned gay marriage in 2006, it took another six years to provide guidance on how rabbis should conduct a gay wedding ceremony that meets the requirements of Jewish law.

In the course of my year of reporting on gay and lesbian Jews, I began to wonder about the untold stories of the “T” folks in the LGBT Jewish world. Of course, there have always been transgender people in synagogues and in other Jewish settings. And it’s been a full five years since Joy Ladin — formerly Jay — made headlines when she returned to Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women as a woman.

Yet after a few Jewish LGBT advocates told me that transgender inclusion was the “new frontier,” I began to look more closely at how Jewish settings are welcoming trans Jews, and at how trans Jews are creating communities of their own.

I was assisted in my research by Michael Berson, the teenage son of a friend of the Forward, who spent a month looking into the topic for me. He mailed me an inches-thick pile of printouts on everything that has ever been written about transgender Judaism, it seemed. (Or at least everything that’s available on the Internet.)

On a bus ride from New York City to Maine, I pored over his findings and delved into the book of essays he included with the packet: “Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community.” As I suspected, the story of transgender Judaism is rich, complicated and evolving, with a fascinating cast of characters — a recipe for great journalism.

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An 'Imperfect Jew' and LGBT Leader

By Michael Kaminer

Jessica Stern

When the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission was founded in 1990, sodomy laws were prevalent. Amnesty International’s platform didn’t include LGBT rights. The United States wouldn’t grant asylum to refugees on the basis of sexual orientation.

The world’s changed since then, and so has IGLHRC. Since earning consultative status at the United Nations in 2010, the organization has been a powerful voice for sexual rights at the international body, often taking on governments with less-than-friendly policies toward LGBT citizens. It’s also become a ferocious watchdog on abuse on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, shining a spotlight on serial human-rights violators across the world.

IGLHRC was founded by a Jewish woman, Julie Dorf. This month, another Jewish woman takes over as executive director. Jessica Stern, 36, had been the organization’s program director, and played a pivotal role in its U.N. accreditation. A native of Setauket, Long Island, Stern lives in Brooklyn with her partner, CUNY Law School clinical-law professor Lisa Davis, whose mother “desperately hopes we’ll get married by a lesbian rabbi.”

The Forward caught up with Stern from her office up the street from the Forward’s still-flooded building on Maiden Lane in Manhattan.

IGLHRC’s been around for 22 years. Now that you’re executive director, what do you plan to change? What do you want to continue?

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An Act of LGBT Censorship in Seattle

By Jay Michaelson

Last year, Israeli adult film star and newly-minted right wing activist Michael Lucas used his financial clout to bar an anti-Israel group from meeting at New York’s LGBT Center. I was one of many who protested: LGBT community centers are meant for the entire community, including groups with whom we may disagree.

But in case we needed a lesson that intolerance exists on the Left as well as the Right, a reciprocal outrage took place last week in Seattle. There, an anti-Israel LGBT activist pressured the city of Seattle’s LGBT Commission to cancel an event featuring three LGBT activists from Israel, scheduled for March 16 at City Hall. I write to protest this action as well. It is unconscionable, reprehensible, and ignorant. And the fact that it was undertaken in the name of fighting oppression, led by transgender activist Dean Spade, makes it even worse.

There are some differences between the two cases. First, the Seattle LGBT Commission’s meeting was in City Hall, not an LGBT community center, and thus conveys a higher level of endorsement of the program’s views. On the other hand, unlike the Siegebusters/Queers Against Israeli Apartheid meeting in New York, this program had absolutely nothing to do with the Israel/Palestine conflict. In fact, I happen to know some of the intended speakers personally, and they happen to hold quite left-wing views on that conflict. This program — one of many coordinated by the American organization A Wider Bridge, seeking to unite LGBT Jews and Israel — was purely about the struggles and successes LGBT people have faced inside green-line Israel.

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