Something New and Dangerous Is Going Down in Israel: Hope

Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade 2012By Bradley Burston

You never truly relax here these days. No one does. You can’t quite know how and where danger is going to strike next.

In fact, something dangerous and entirely unexpected is going down in Israel right now. Not even the government knows how to begin to deal with it. It’s something which the cabinet has absolutely no effective defense against.

It goes by a number of names. But one of them, is hope. And one of the places it struck most recently, most tellingly, most unexpectedly, was Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, extremists and bigots – many of them well-paid civil servants – mounted an obscene campaign of intimidation and demonization against potential participants in the city’s planned March for Pride and Tolerance.

Opponents of the march hoped that the campaign, coupled with threats of violence in the shadow of a shocking murder during the march a year ago, would deter participants from the route and perhaps keep the event from taking place at all.

The result? For every marcher in 2015, in this year’s march there were six. LGBTQ and straight, atheist and Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. Youth movements and, yes, rabbis.

Nearly 30,000 people marched for dangerous goals: Equality, full recognition as human beings, full recognition of the diversity and the power and the glory of love.

It was a time of incomprehensible hatred here and abroad, a time when the government has rarely let a day go by without working on a law and mounting an operation to deride and threaten Palestinian citizens of Israel and non-Orthodox Jews the world over.

Last Thursday on the streets of our most hatred-torn city, however, love won. An Israel to be proud of. A life cult.

If you always suspected that there is nothing more dangerous than love, now you know. Earlier this month, all across Israel, love turned hundreds of powerful, high-titled men into churlish, childish, ultimately terrified bullies, attacking decent, positive people with hateful labels (“Animals,” “Perverts,” “Abominations,” “Sick”).

What is it that so terrifies these men? They know. They know that LGBTQ rights and recognition are wedge issues they cannot easily contain, decree against, wall off, excommunicate.

They know the statistics, the research which shows that around one of ten members of every human population is gay – their own yeshivas, religious military training academies, their very Rabbinate included.

The march, and the pride and tolerance for which it stands, scare these men of the cloth to death – perhaps because many of them are part of the one in ten.

Yet there is a wider principle at work, one which has the possibility of changing this place from the outside in.

Across the board, the most threatening wedge issues, like LGBTQ rights, widespread poverty and inadequate health and elder and child care, are those which cut across the divides about which we obsess, and which keep us from doing anything worthwhile about anything else.

These issues cut across and through the Israeli-Palestinian abyss, the Orthodox-Non-Orthodox Jewish wars, the cast-in-stone debates between right and left.

These issues are about actual human contact, and bedrock human needs, and more and more people in Israel and the territories are addressing them in new ways.

Take, for example, the wedge issue of the environment. In the pollution-plagued Haifa Bay area, which includes the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Acre, demonstrators this week held up signs in Hebrew and Arabic reading “Standing Together for Clean Air.”

Across the country, Arab and Jewish towns are finding ways to skirt the deaf-ear central government, and work together to solve ecological issues which they, operating individually, had been unable to address.

Increasingly, Israelis and Palestinians, shorn of illusions that their leaders will take even cosmetic steps toward peace, have been meeting and working together in a variety of contexts.

They have begun to evolve creative potential frameworks for a future Israel and Palestine, ideas creative enough to challenge and trouble both sides.

Then there are cultural pioneers, Arabs and Jews playing music together in venues around Jerusalem and across Israel. There are Jews who are taking steps to reclaim the Arab heritage of their immigrant grandparents, letting light through cracks in longstanding cultural walls. There are Jews of the Tag Meir organization, working to heal the wounds opened by extremists on our own side. Jews in growing numbers are opting for non-Orthodox weddings, life events, and congregations.

Ultimately, what is dangerous in Israel is the idea that people, ordinary people of all sorts, are finding ways to skirt and stand up to institutions like the Rabbinate and the government agencies who, rather than serving them, plague them and ruin their lives.

May the dangers only increase.