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Ben-Gvir, the Beast Parade, and a Blessing in Synagogue

Israel’s former minister of justice weighs in on Bibi’s new coalition partners

by
Liel Leibovitz
November 08, 2022
Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images
The ‘Beast Parade,’ 2006Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images
Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images
The ‘Beast Parade,’ 2006Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

What follows is a translation of a long Hebrew-language Facebook post by Amir Ohana, the recently reelected Israeli Knesset member who formerly served in governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Ohana became the first openly gay person to be elected to the Knesset and the first openly gay person to serve in an Israeli government, both as Israel’s minister of justice and as minister of public security. He is a member of the Likud Party.

The “Beast Parade” was a demonstration held on Nov. 9, 2006, in Jerusalem by homophobes who paraded goats and donkeys through the streets in what they intended as an answer to Israel’s annual Pride parades, the largest of which is held in Tel Aviv. The homophobes, whose leaders included two of Netanyahu’s prospective coalition partners, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, were responding to left-wing activists who wished to stage a local Pride parade whose route passed through religious Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. In a rare moment of agreement, Palestinian Muslim clerics and activists of the ruling Fatah party joined their homophobic Jewish brethren in condemning the Jerusalem Pride event, calling it a “moral massacre,” a “defilement,” a “cancer,” and “an ugly, unprecedented crime.”

Both Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have publicly regretted their involvement in the Beast Parade. The Jerusalem Pride march is now an annual event.

This Yom Kippur, we wanted to take little David to shul, to hear the Neilah prayer and the shofar.

Ella was with one of her girlfriends.

We walked around the neighborhood, making our way to a Moroccan shul we were told we could find on Moshe Dayan Street, and as we were walking we heard a Yemenite prayer coming from a synagogue nearby. It was lovely, so we walked in.

Naturally, because I’m not the most anonymous person in Israel, I was soon recognized, and Alon and I were given great seats and we joined in on the praying. We prayed until Neilah.

We heard the shofar, the stars were out in the sky, and as we turned to leave (sinfully, we didn’t stay for the blessing of the moon), one of the congregants said to the rabbi, “bless that child,” and pointed at David.

Now, I know how this blessing goes, and I know that after “He who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” comes the part about “He will also bless” so-and-so son of so-and-so, that last so-and-so being the mother’s name.

You know my family. Alon is my partner, and we’re both David’s parents. I didn’t want to embarrass the rabbi, so I pulled Alon and David toward the door. But the congregant wouldn’t hear of it: “a blessing for the child!” he said.

And without another word, the rabbi began blessing David.

“He who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he will bless …”

And I said “David.”

“David son of?” asked the rabbi, waiting for me to provide the missing information.

“Amir,” I said.

“David son of Amir and?” the rabbi asked again, and I was shocked to see him looking straight at Alon.

“Alon,” we both said.

“David son of Amir and Alon. May the Merciful One bless him and keep him from all trouble and hardship, from all illness and plague, and may He send him blessings and success in everything he does, for all of Israel are his brothers. And let us say, Amen.”

And all those present at shul, all smiling widely, said loudly, “Amen!”

And this is an Orthodox Yemenite synagogue, yes?

Now, why am I sharing this personal story—which I’m assuming would’ve been pure fantasy even just a few years back—with you? Because a lot of left-wing gays are sending me photographs of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and their [anti-gay] “Parade of Beasts” from 20 years ago, asking me “these are your partners in the coalition?” Even the Association of Left-Wing LGBTQ posted about it on Facebook. No surprises there: Left-wing hypocrisy is nothing new.

But, really, is it possible that they don’t know that they’re sharing their current coalition with Walid Taha, a member of the Islamist movement and the chairman of the Internal Affairs Committee, who only very recently said he will never let the laws passed by “perverts” pass? And indeed, his party vetoed these bills so hard that not a single LGBTQ-related legislation was passed in this government’s lifetime—a government that does not include, as you know, the Haredis, Ben-Gvir, or Smotrich?

Is it possible that they really don’t know that they’re sharing the coalition with the Islamist Mansour Abbas, who supports conversion therapies? Is it possible that they don’t realize that Yair Lapid—he who is oh so liberal—has no government without the vote of Ahmed “I’m anti pride parades” Tibi? Attached are screen grabs. None of them are from 20 years ago. Just look at the dates.

Now look: Anyone who sees themselves as primarily being LGBTQ, anyone who is driven mainly by this identity when casting their vote, has no perfect solution. Any potential coalition will have some members who oppose advancing equal freedoms (as a liberal, I feel much more connected to equal freedoms than the term “equal rights,” but that’s a discussion for another day) for LGBTQ people.

But!

On our side, little David, the son of Amir and Alon, receives a blessing in shul.

On our side, when you ask Itamar Ben-Gvir about the LGBTQ population, he says he would not have repeated the “Parade of Beasts” today, and he also says that gays and lesbians are my brothers and sisters (make that trans men and women, too, Itamar), and that if my son tells me he’s gay, I’ll give him a big hug. When you get Walid Taha to make statements like these, let me know. Until then, vote Likud.

Hebrew translation by Liel Leibovitz

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.

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