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Israel Looking For Gay Volunteers to Promote Diversity

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Saturday Jan 7, 2012
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Israel is looking for gay and lesbians to volunteer as unofficial envoys in order to promote the country’s diversity, the Associated Press reported in a Jan. 5 article.

Israel’s ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs wants to promote the country’s international image by having diverse volunteers speak about Israel around the world. In a recent posting on the organization’s website, it calls for members of the LGBT community to volunteer.

Ministry spokesperson Gal Ilan said that the organization wants to promote the country’s strong diversity and that many people are unaware of Israel’s gay culture.

Even though Israel is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the Middle East in terms of gay issues, some have criticized the country for exploiting gays to promote gay tourism.

In a Nov. 2011, article by the New York Times, the term "pinkwashing," or the "deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life," is mentioned. Law professor at Tel Aviv University, Aeyal Gross, claims that the gay rights movement has been used as a public relations tool.

Nevertheless, even its most severe critics acknowledge that the tiny Jewish state is not only the nation in the region that is progressive about gay rights, it is also the only one that isn’t actively attacking its LGBT citizens when they are perceived to be practicing or even manifesting their sexual identity.

Although same-sex marriage is not legal in Israel, it is the only country in the Middle East and all of Asia to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed elsewhere.
The Civil Service Commission grants spousal benefits and pensions to partners of gay employees and the Israeli State Attorney’s Office has extended spousal tax benefits to gay couples.

In addition, Tel Aviv, the country’s second biggest city, recognizes unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, as a family, which allows them to receive discounts for municipal services.

Gays are also allowed to openly serve in the military and any discrimination against gay and lesbian soldiers in recruitment, placement and promotion is prohibited as is harassment based on sexual orientation. The Israeli military also recognizes same-sex couples and same-sex widows and widowers.

When it comes to anti-discrimination laws, a 1992 legislation was passed, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Michael Lucas, an American-Russian-Israeli, gay porn actor, director and entrepreneur has become an activist for Israel over the past few years. He has criticized many aspects of Middle Eastern culture, especially its treatment of gays.

"I have many identities and I am proud of all of them," Lucas writes in an April 2010, article for the Advocate. "And while the state of Israel respects all my identities, the Islamic world would like to murder me for any single one of them."

Lucas goes on to say that the war between Israel and Palestine is not between two political views but suggests that Palestine is "stuck in the Middle Ages" and Israel "belongs in the 21st century."

"It’s a conflict between ... those who treat gay people with respect and those who murder them, jail them, torture them, and dismember them; between those who treat women like equals and those who treat women like camels."

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