Israel today is one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of equality for sexual minorities. In recent years, Israel has produced more progressive legislation and court decisions in the areas of sexual orientation and gay and lesbian rights than many Western countries. Israel has an active gay community and it is by far the most tolerant Middle Eastern country towards homosexuals.
Politically, legally, and culturally, the gay and lesbian community has moved from life at the margins of Israeli society to visibility and growing acceptance. As is often the case with battles for social justice and equality, changes occur due to a combination of political, legal and social factors.
Significant dates and developments:
1988 - Knesset decriminalizes homosexuality
Historically, the Israeli criminal code proscribed homosexual intercourse between males and numerous other consensual sexual activities. In 1953 and later in 1972, however, the attorney generals of Israel issued instructions not to prosecute for the commission of offences under this section, instructions that were followed by the police. Several attempts to eliminate the section prohibiting homosexual intercourse altogether, or at least to reduce its punitive sanctions, failed under the strong pressure of the religious parties. It was finally eliminated in 1988.
1992 - Knesset prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace
In 1992 the Equal Employment Opportunity Act 1988 was revised to prohibit discrimination in employment relations on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Failure to comply with the Act incurs penal liability and the person discriminated against also has a right to seek civil remedies (which include punitive damages). This amendment is seen as a major step towards recognition of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as equal members of society.
1993 - Knesset establishes special sub-committee
Under the initiative of Labor MK Yael Dayan, the Knesset established a subcommittee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual rights in 1993.
1993 - IDF rescinds regulations discriminating against sexual minorities
The IDF has never formally prohibited the inclusion of sexual minorities. Before the 1980s, however, an admission of homosexuality would likely be met with dismissal of the gay or lesbian soldier. From 1983 to 1993, the Israeli military officially approved the inclusion of sexual minorities, but it did implement some restrictions on their placement, prohibiting them from serving in sensitive intelligence positions (the rationale being that sexual minorities could pose a security threat because of a vulnerability to blackmail) and subject them to additional psychological testing to ensure their fitness.
Then-Prime Minster and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin officially abolished the restrictions in 1993. Official policy now mandates that sexual orientation no longer may be used to exclude soldiers from access to special information or from jobs that require access to such information. Homosexuals are subject to the same level of scrutiny for positions as are all other candidates, and cases of possible security risks are handled on an individual basis.
1994 - Supreme court recognizes same-sex partner benefits in private sector
In November 1994, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision granting equal rights to same-sex couples. In the case of El-Al v. Danilowitz, the petitioner challenged the national air line’s policy of granting free tickets to employees’ opposite-sex partners, but not to same-sex partners. The Israeli Supreme Court held that this policy discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
1997 - Same-sex partner benefits extended to public sector
The Tel Aviv District Court, sitting as an IDF appeals committee, ordered the army to recognize Adir Steiner as the common-law spouse of the late Col. Doron Maisel and to grant him benefits as an IDF widower. The couple had lived together for many years, shared finances and were known in public as a couple. The Court established that the army’s policy, according to which only heterosexual couples qualify for benefits, was discriminatory.
This decision is seen as even more far-reaching than the Danilowitz ruling, which involved a private contract between a commercial company and an individual. The Steiner case, on the other hand, has ramifications for the entire public sector.
1997 - Ban on TV discussion on homosexuality overturned
In 1997, Education Minister Zvulun Hammer decided to ban an Educational Television program on homosexual teenagers. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, joined by several gay rights organizations, petitioned the High Court to overturn Hammer’s decision. The High Court ordered Hammer to permit the program to be aired.
2000 - Age of consent lowered
In November 2000 the legal age of consensual homosexual relations was lowered from 18 to 16. Thus, the law now establishes a uniform legal age for consensual sex applying to both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
2000 - Recognition of same-sex partner as adoptive parent
The Supreme Court recognized a lesbian as the adoptive mother of the four-year-old son of her same-sex partner, and ordered the Interior Ministry to register the adoption. Thus, the child is registered as having two mothers.
2006 - Gay marriages abroad recognized in Israel
On 21 November 2006, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled 6-to-1 in favor of five same-sex Israeli couples who had married in Canada and sought to have their marriages registered in Israel, possibly setting a precedent which could allow other couples to do so.
Same-sex couples in Israel now have many of the same rights as heterosexual couples. They have been granted legal recognition for the purpose of property tax benefits, inheritance tax and housing aid.
Culturally too, the gay and lesbian community has moved into the mainstream. Gay issues are represented in television, film, theatre and literature. Most of Israel’s gay bars and cafes operate in Tel Aviv, which also hosts an annual Gay Pride parade. In 1998, a transgender singer - Dana International - represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest and won first prize, bringing transgenders further into Israeli mainstream society.
Recent News Stories Concerning Gay Rights and Israel:
State to Help Same-Sex Couples Adopt
Woman’s Life Partner Recognized as Her Widow
Follow Israel’s Example on Gays in the Military, US Study Says
New Regulation: Gays Can Inherit Partners’ Assets
Gay Party Runs for Seats in the Knesset
Jerusalem Proudly Presents
Israel’s “Pinkest” Embassy in Paris
Most Israelis Would Accept a Gay Child
Ivri Lider, Eytan Fox on ‘Out’s’ Most Important Gay List
Gay rights organizations in Israel:
• The Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexuals and Transgenders in Israel (‘The Aguda’): The first gay organization in Israel, established in 1975. The Aguda is “dedicated to furthering the rights of the GLBT community in Israel”. It is a non-profit, volunteer organization, with over 500 active volunteers. (http://www.aguda-ta.org.il/content/)
• Claf: Community of feminist lesbians, established in 1987. It focuses on community activities, provides advice and support for lesbian women and acts in the legal and political spheres to promote gay and lesbian rights. (http://www.gay.org.il/claf/indexe.htm)
• Political Council for GLBT Rights in Israel: A national organization established to promote the GLBT community’s struggle for equality in Israel, foremost on the constitutional level. (http://www.pcgri.org/)
• The Other 10%: The Gay and Lesbian Student Union of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (http://www.gay.org.il/asiron/english.htm)
• Jerusalem Open House: A grassroots, activist organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, advancing the cause of social tolerance. The house, established in 1997, operates a variety of activities for youth, women, religious groups and others.(http://www.gay.org.il/joh/eng/home_eng.htm).
• Tehila - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays: The TEHILA group was founded in 1988 in Tel-Aviv, to serve as a support group for parents and other family members. They provide advice, assistance and support on how to approach the issue of a family member coming out. (http://www.tehila.org.il/)
* PLEASE NOTE: All this information, except the news articles,
was taken from: http://www.bicom.org.uk/about_israel/gay_rights