Gay Groups Protest in Israel with Support from Big Tech Firms
29 July 2018

On July 22, about 100,000 Israelis came together in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest for gay rights. It was one of the biggest protest in the country’s history.

The cause of the protest was opposition to a new law that offers public financing for parental surrogacy to straight couples and single women, but not to male homosexual couples. The gay community used the occasion to stage an unsuspected display of power.

The event was put together by a small cadre of activists under the leadership of a gay rights umbrella group, the Aguda. But they didn’t do it alone. They had the support of virtually the entire Israeli tech firms.

Support from big tech firms

Apple Israel gave their employees a paid day off to attend the demonstration, and closed its stores in a show of solidarity. “One of Israel’s greatest gifts is the creativity, diversity and talent of its entire people,” said a statement from the company. “Unfortunately, recent legislation passed by the Knesset undermines those values. Apple will always maintain its values of fairness, dignity and mutual respect, and we stand with all of our employees seeking equality under the law.”

IBM Israel also supported the protests saying.. “No one should be denied one of the most basic human rights – the right to start a family – for being who they are. We support IBMers who wish to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in advocating for legislation that is inclusive of ALL.”

Some of the tech giants were even more supporting. Microsoft Israel and Mellanox, an Israeli-American supplier of computer networking products, each offered $16,400 to employees to help finance expensive foreign surrogacy.

The bigger Israeli business sector, which has traditionally been unwilling to frighten away customers with principled stands, found their backbone. El Al and IsrAir, Teva and Soda Stream, the major cell phone providers, retail chains and credit card companies all took a stand for the gay community.

The Aguda leaders insisted that theirs was a non-partisan movement. They merely encouraged supporters to work from within by joining the political party of their choice. This was disingenuous. Israel’s LGBT movement, like its American counterpart, has been strongly allied with the progressive parties that make up the parliamentary opposition.


The government and Aguda

The governing Likud Party does, in fact, have members who sympathize with LGBT causes. According to a poll published on Wednesday, 51 percent of Likud voters were in sympathy with the demonstration. But for now that sympathy has little practical meaning because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party is captive to its ultra-orthodox coalition partners on gay rights and other social issues.

The Aguda leaders set forth six basic demands, which tuned out to be fairly pedestrian, including more shelters for vulnerable LGBT people, stiffer penalties for anti-gay crimes and a publicly financed educational campaign for tolerance. Their demands highlighted the fact that gay rights are already well established in Israeli law and custom.

LGBT soldiers serve without controversy in every branch and rank of the military. Israel proudly brands itself as a gay friendly tourist country, and has made its annual Pride Week the closest thing to national mardi gras. The country has laws banning workplace discrimination and penalties for hate crimes. LGBT parents have adoption rights. And it is only a matter of time before gay males get equal surrogacy rights.


The elections

Sunday’s demonstration of strength could be a catalyst for change on the left. The LGBT’s energy, and its direct challenge to the rabbis, gives it a leadership position among Israel’s fragmented civil rights organizations. And its de facto coalition with the hi-tech sector is important. Silicon Wadi, Israel’s version of Silicon Valley, while disclaiming any partisan agenda, lends prestige, financial support and unabashed secular egalitarianism to any cause it embraces. A left-leaning political party that captures both has a fighting chance of emerging from the doldrums of the past two decades.

It is axiomatic that mainstream Israeli voters put national security first. To win an election, the LGBT-Hi-tech coalition would have to be at once socially conscious and sufficiently hawkish. That’s not an easy balancing act, but it’s suddenly conceivable.


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