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Netanyahu pauses efforts to reform Israel’s judiciary

LGBTQ+, intersex rights groups part of nationwide protest movement

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LGBTQ+ and intersex activists participate in a protest against proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced he has postponed efforts to reform the country’s judicial system.

The announcement, which Netanyahu made during a prime-time speech, came after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. 

Netanyahu on Saturday fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he publicly criticized the proposed reforms. Asaf Zamir, the Israeli consul general in New York, resigned in protest.

Elad Strohmayer, the openly gay spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in D.C., on Monday in a tweet acknowledged the embassy will be closed “today until further notice and no consular services will be provided.” The embassy has since reopened.

“Today (3/27), the Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor union, instructed all government employees to go on strike, including Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world,” tweeted Strohmayer.

The Associated Press notes the proposed reforms would “increase” the coalition government’s “control over judicial appointments and diminish the (Israeli) Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws” the Knesset approves. 

Netanyahu’s coalition government took office in December. 

Critics of the proposed reforms, among other things, have noted Netanyahu is pushing for the proposed reforms in order to avoid his conviction on fraud and corruption charges for which he is currently on trial.  

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, has reported LGBTQ+ and intersex people and advocacy groups have joined the protest movement against what has been described as an attempted “coup d’état” since it began in January. Aguda Chair Hila Peer during a demonstration that took place in Tel Aviv earlier this month said the current “government has a clear agenda and the LGBTQ community is one of the first in line.”

“This is not legal reform, it is a gun that is being held to the head of the LGBTQ community. They are destroying the only body that protects human rights, so that later they can enact whatever they want against us,” said Peer. “This government has brought up the worst haters of freedom, of equality and of the LGBTQ community, It gave them power over our families, over our rights. We faced crazier, meaner, more violent and broke every closet they ever dared to try build for us.”

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Turkish activists fear Erdoğan will further restrict LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Long-time president won re-election on Sunday

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo from Erdoğan's Twitter page)

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday won re-election.

Erdoğan, a former Istanbul mayor who has governed Turkey since 2003, defeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential election’s second round by a 52-48 percent margin. The Associated Press notes Erdoğan will remain in office until at least 2028.

Turkish authorities over the last decade have increasingly cracked down on LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the country.

Police in 2015 used tear gas and water cannons against people who were about to participate in an Istanbul Pride march. Authorities in 2017 arrested nearly two dozen people who defied a ban on Pride events in the city.

Police in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on May 10, 2019, arrested 18 students and an academic who participated in a Pride march at the Middle East Technical University. They faced up to three years in prison, but a court in 2021 acquitted them. Police in 2022 violently broke up a Pride parade at the same Ankara university.

The State Department in 2021 criticized Turkey after police once again used tear gas to disperse Istanbul Pride march participants near the city’s Istiklal Avenue. Security forces last June arrested more than 370 people who tried to participate in another Istanbul Pride march.  

Fourteen Turkish LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organizations in a joint statement they issued ahead of Sunday’s election noted both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu “resorted to hate speech during the election process.”

“The election period is long and painful for all of us,” reads the joint statement the May 17 Association, SPoD (Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association), Ankara Rainbow Families Association (GALADER), the Young Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Intersex Youth Studies and Solidarity Association, the HEVI LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, Kaos GL, the Red Umbrella Association, Lambda Istanbul, LGBTI+ Families and Relatives Association, Mersin 7 Colors LGBT, Muamma, the Free Colors LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, the Pink Life LGBTI+ Solidarity Association and ÜniKuir issued. “The bitter pills we swallowed during the election are now overflowing the cup. Before the elections and during the first round of the elections, LGBTI+ people were often targeted and the focus of hate speech, while racism and refugee hostility also dominated in the second round.”

The statement also described the presidential election as a “referendum.”

“This election is a referendum on whether the 12th president’s rule will continue or not, whether the one-man regime in the country will come to an end or not,” it reads. “Yes, we will continue to be in the opposition regardless of the outcome. But this election is also the election of under which conditions and against whom we will oppose from now on.”

Media reports indicate Erdoğan in his victory speech criticized the Turkish opposition “for being pro-LGBT.”

One activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Monday said Erdoğan “unfortunately” won re-election.

“LGBTI activism in Turkey will be even more threatened,” said the activist.

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Activists: Iranian minority, LGBTQ voices must be centered

Iranian activists joined Instagram Live discussion hosted by Planned Parenthood Global as part of its “This Is Brave” campaign initiative

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Planned Parenthood Global Instagram Live event graphic (courtesy of Planned Parenthood Global)

WASHINGTON – Amid the ongoing turmoil in Iran, LGBTQ and other minority voices must be centered in the fight for equal rights, activists said during an Instagram Live discussion hosted by Planned Parenthood Global on Friday.

The group organized the event as part of its “This Is Brave” campaign, an initiative that endeavors to “show the connection across social justice movements,” Planned Parenthood Global Senior Director of Global Communications Crister Delacruz told The Washington Blade by phone on Friday.

“For example,” she said, “sexual and reproductive rights are connected to the fight for LGBTQ equality: just like anyone else, members of the LGBTQ community around the world who need access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.”

Protests, many led by women and other marginalized groups, erupted in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last September. Amini was detained by authorities for allegedly violating rules governing how women can dress.

The demonstrations continued over the subsequent months despite violent crackdowns from the Iranian government, earning the attention of the international community and prompting the U.S. Senate to introduce a resolution condemning the country’s “systemic persecution of women and peaceful protestors.”

Joining Friday’s discussion were Priscillia Kounkou Hoveyda, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Collective for Black Iranians, and Cyrus Veyssi, a digital creator and online strategist with a substantial following on social media platforms. Donya Nasser, a former member of the Planned Parenthood Global Advisory Board and current board member of Planned Parenthood’s Mar Monte (Calif.) affiliate, moderated the conversation.

Veyssi, a queer and nonbinary “child of the diaspora” who grew up in the U.S., said they have “countless friends who live in secrecy in Iran,” people who in some cases “have to spend every weekend in a jail” or were forced to flee the country, often with help from groups like the International Railroad for Queer Refugees (formerly known as the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees).

Social media, Veyssi said, “has allowed people in the West to see what is happening in Iran.” And given their sizable platform and privileged position living safely in America with economic security, Veyssi said they feel it is their responsibility to “share as much as I can.”

Especially so since so many other LGBTQ activists who share content about or are otherwise engaged on social media with issues concerning the turmoil in Iran have experienced shadow-banning, Veyssi said, referring to the phenomenon by which a user’s posts are artificially depressed so they reach fewer followers than they otherwise would.

On Wednesday, Veyssi provided a written statement to The Washington Blade in response to a question concerning the nature of any misconceptions they have observed among Americans when it comes to the struggle for equal rights in Iran.

Noting that they are not positioned to speak on behalf of Iranians who still live in the country, Veyssi said they have observed that one “main misconception is not understanding the nuance between the violent and oppressive government in Iran and that of our culture.”

This extends to the treatment of LGBTQ people and identities, they said. “There is a lot embedded within our history that suggests how open minded – specifically among gender and sexuality expressions – our people have been.”

“From subversive poetry that illustrates queer love to even beauty trends that contrast with western ideals of masculinity and femininity, queerness has always been a facet of social experiences in Iran” Veyssi said.

“I wish more people understood that LGBTQIA+ rights is part of the larger movement towards freedom in Iran right now,” they added, “and that resistance in Iran can simply look like waking up and choosing to go about your day as your true self, something that many people have died for and are fighting for.”

Kounkou Hoveyda, who is Congolese, Iranian, and French, recounted the story of a 24-year-old man who was “arrested and tortured in detention” for fighting for “the right to be who he is.” Even LGBTQ Iranians who choose not to engage in demonstrations or speak out against the government “are in a constant state of alert,” said Kounkou Hoveyda, who identifies as queer.

Among outside observers in the West, many never think to ask themselves whether Iranians engaged in the protests and movements for social and political equality may be transgender or nonbinary, Kounkou Hoveyda said – adding that Iranians are “just as layered as any other group of people” even when living under a regime that works to censor out their marginalized identities.

It is also incumbent on the allies of marginalized minority communities to speak out on their behalf, Veyssi said. “I want the 40-year-old white woman living in Nebraska posting about Iran” because she will have access to and influence with an audience whom less privileged groups may never be able to reach, they said.

Likewise, even in cases where matters like the treatment of women do not impact them directly, Veyssi said, “I will show up for whoever needs it, and it’s not just about what’s happening right now” in Iran. For example, they said, one must show up for women in the United States who are battling for bodily autonomy.

Veyssi credited Planned Parenthood Global for providing the opportunity for him and the other speakers to address these issues, which they said corporations and other powerful institutions have often shied away from.

“So many brands and companies want to avoid it,” they said, but what’s happening in Iran is not a political or partisan matter. Rather, Veyssi said, this is about freedom and one must confront the question of whether to stand up for that or stand in the way by remaining silent.

As the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood Global has worked overseas for 50 years to break down barriers to health care and champion the brave people putting their safety on the line each and every day for reproductive freedom.

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New right-wing Israeli government takes office

Activists’ concerns overshadow first gay Knesset speaker

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government was sworn in on Thursday.

After a long and exhausting coalition negotiation in which the far-right parties blackmailed Netanyahu, they managed to insert into the coalition agreements a number of clauses that pose a clear danger to the continued promotion of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Israel, and even to the institutionalization of discrimination and its legalization.

The new government’s first goal in Israel is to weaken the judicial system and enact the superseding clause that will allow the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a majority of 61 Knesset members.

Another law included in the coalition agreements is the Discrimination Law, according to which “in order to correct the distortion in the status quo that was recently made, the Law Prohibiting Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry to Entertainment Places and Public Places will be amended, so that the possibility of holding cultural events or studies for religious and ultra-Orthodox people, while taking into account their religious beliefs and needs, will be amended — including gender segregation. Under these conditions, segregation will not be considered prohibited discrimination.”

Even before the swearing in of the government, the designated minister Orit Struck explained that according to the new law, a doctor could refuse to give his patients treatments that contradict his religious beliefs.

MK Simcha Rotman explained that businesses could refuse to commit “religious offenses” in their area, and when asked if hotels could refuse to host a gay couple, he replied: Yes.

The new list of ministers includes 36 ministers, many of whom hold anti-LGBTQ+ opinions. But the two appointments appear to be particularly problematic for the LGBTQ+ community. 

The first is the appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir as National Security Minister, whose approval includes changes to the Police Order Law, also known as the “Ben Gvir law” in the framework of which additional powers were transferred to the Internal Security Minister and the labeling of police policy, which includes, among other things, the definition of priorities, work plans and powers in matters of the budget. This structural change in the police command gives Gvir the authority and the possibility to act harshly against future protests and even prevent them.

The second appointment is that of Amichai Shikli as Social Equality Minister. 

Shikli, an MK from the Likud party, is among those responsible for the overthrow of the previous government of Naftali Bennett, spoke out against the LGBTQ+ community many times, and is currently in charge of the Social Equality Ministry under which the LGBTQ+ activity in the local authorities was budgeted, which is now in danger.

Amid all the homophobia, the appointment of MK Amir Ohana of the Likud who was elected Knesset speaker, and became the first LGBTQ+ MK to hold this position, which is considered one of the five symbols of rule, stands out.

In his ceremonial speech in the Knesset, Ohana referred to the new coalition member’s statements of the members of the new coalition:

“This Knesset is the home of all the citizens of Israel. It is the true fortress of human rights and individual freedom,” he said. “Along with things we agree on, we hear very controversial things here. Really outrageous. But this is the place to discuss the most painful and sensitive issues and make decisions. This — and no other”.

During Ohana’s first speech as Knesset speaker, there was embarrassment when the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties bowed their heads and covered their faces when Ohana acknowledged his spouse and his children who were sitting in the hall.

“Alon is with me … [he is] my anchor, the wise and good, and our beloved children Ella and David,” said Ohana. “This Knesset, led by this speaker, will not harm them or any child or family — P-E-R-I-O-D. And if there is a boy or girl watching me here today, know that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you can get anywhere you want.”

The LGBTQ+ community marked the government’s inauguration with demonstrations and protests, along with dozens of civil society organizations.

Hundreds of “Love Will Win” signs in the colors of Pride were hung in dozens of local authorities across the country in the morning by the Aguda’s “local Pride” activists. Members of the community from north to south came out in the middle of the night and hung the signs in their homes in Ariel, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Gedera, Givat Shmuel, Petah Tikva, Haifa, Netanya, Pardes Hana Karkur, Jordan Valley, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Rehovot and Or Yehuda.

At 10:30 a.m. in front of the Knesset, a protest with Pride flags joined dozens of civil society organizations from all ends of the political spectrum and the hundreds of demonstrators who demonstrated in front of the Knesset. The demonstrators waved Pride flags and signs against the discriminatory laws included in the coalition agreements.

In the evening, LGBTQ+ organizations held a demonstration in front of the Government Tower in Tel Aviv. 

Around 3,000 demonstrators gathered in square and listened to the protest speeches of the representatives of the LGBTQ+ organizations. Later in the evening they went down to the road and blocked Ayalon Hhighway, with the police accompanying them and allowing them to carry out the blockades.

“We have proven to the whole country that we know and know how to fight for our lives when necessary,” said Hila Peer, chairwoman of the Aguda. “And we are not alone. We are with the vast majority of Israeli citizens, most of the economy, most of the local authorities. With us are the families, the parents, the brothers and friends who stand by us. Don’t try us because our righteous and valuable struggle to be equal citizens only goes forward. It will not go back on our watch.”

The business community also joined the protest against the new government’s plans to harm minorities and discriminated populations. During the day, more and more companies and commercial entities responded to the call initiated by LGBTech and joined almost 300 companies that made public statements that they will not allow discrimination and will refuse to provide services to discriminatory entities.

“We are thankful and grateful to the companies and employers who rallied in recent days and called loudly for the right to equality, acceptance and security.” LGBTech CEO Sivan Kaniel. “The Israeli economy is committed and will continue to be committed to all its workers and employees, and we call on female managers and other managers to call out loudly against the racist voices, the waterfalls that are heard today. Today these voices are directed towards the LGBTQ community, tomorrow they are other communities. This is a moral and ethical test hour for all of us, Israelis, regarding the character of the country in which we live. We must raise our voices today, for the right of all of us to earn a living, and to live safely and peacefully.”

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Israeli official says anti-LGBTQ+ animus boosted LGBTQ+ support

Escalated anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by Noam party chief MK Avi Maoz has strengthened support for the LGBTQ+ community

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Openly gay Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll speaks at a June 2021 Pride month gathering at the ministry in Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Israeli Foreign Ministry)

JERUSALEM – In a video posted to Israeli social media platforms, the country’s openly gay Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll says the escalated anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by Noam party chief MK Avi Maoz has strengthened support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Maoz has long been opposed to LGBTQ+ equality rights, most recently in November vowing to legally abolish the annual LGBTQ+ Pride Parade in the Israeli capital. During an interview with Galei Tzahal, a nationwide Israeli radio network operated by the Israel Defense Forces, he announced his party would “investigate canceling the pride parade from a legal point of view.”

During the interview Maoz alleged the annual Pride celebration was meant as a “provocation,” describing it as offensive.

“It is illegal for a person to walk naked in the street. There is no public participation without limits. What a person does in his private home is their business and I don’t intend on getting involved,” Maoz said.

Israeli media report approximately 7,000 people march in the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade, which has taken place nearly annually for nearly two decades. While largely accepted by residents, it is often accompanied by protests from religious hardliners, and there have been two stabbing attacks, both by the same perpetrator, first in 2005 and a second fatal assault in 2015.

In the video circulating in Israeli social media, the Deputy Foreign Minister, and one of a handful of openly gay lawmakers the country’s unicameral legislature, the Knesset, said:

“I want to thank MK Avi Maoz, because due to him and his efforts, the Open House in Jerusalem has already raised NIS 100,000 ($29,000) toward the Jerusalem Pride Parade.” He then added “thanks to Maoz more people know that there is a large, strong [LGBT] community and they’re not alone and have nothing to be afraid of.”

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Far-right Israeli politician vows to cancel Jerusalem Pride parade

Avi Maoz rebuked by Benjamin Netanyahu

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Avi Maoz (Screen capture via i24NEWS English YouTube)

JERUSALEM — A far-right Israeli politician on Wednesday said the country’s new government should not allow the annual Jerusalem Pride parade to take place.

Walla News Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid noted Avi Maoz, a member of the Israeli Knesset who is a member of the far-right Noam party, told the Olam Katan newspaper the incoming government needs “to cancel the Jerusalem Pride parade.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Maoz. “I am as serious as I can be. It didn’t come up in the coalition agreement, but I am not hiding, I want it cancelled.”

President Isaac Herzog has asked Netanyahu to form a government after his Likud Party won the election that took place on Nov. 1. Maoz’s party is among those that could form a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister.

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, previously reported Maoz promotes an anti-LGBTQ agenda based on the preservation of family values.

Ravid noted Netanyahu has said the Jerusalem Pride parade “will continue.”

“My government will not harm the rights of the LGBT community or any of Israel’s citizens,” said Netanyahu. 

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World Cup ambassador calls homosexuality ‘damage in the mind’

Khalid Salman’s interview with German reporter abruptly ended

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Khalid Salman (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube)

DOHA, Qatar — World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman on Monday described homosexuality as “damage in the mind.”

Salman, a former Qatari soccer player, made the comment during an interview with a reporter from ZDF, a German television station, in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The former Qatari soccer player in response to the reporter’s question about the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country described homosexuality as “haram” or “forbidden” under Sharia law. A member of the World Cup organizing committee abruptly stopped the interview after Salman made his comments. 

The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to begin in Doha on Nov. 20.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month in a report noted Qatari officials between 2019 and September 2022 “arbitrary arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention.” 

The report documents six cases “of severe and repeated beatings” and five cases of “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period.

“Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones,” said Human Rights Watch. “As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that Transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored ‘behavioral support center.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha. Ten captains of European soccer teams that will compete in the World Cup have said they will wear “one love” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

“They have to accept our rules here,” Salman told ZDF.

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Israel election results could prove disastrous for LGBTQ+ community

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poised to return to office

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

JERUSALEM — Around five million Israelis voted in the elections that took place on Tuesday.

After five election campaigns in three and a half years, as of now it seems that the tie between the two (political) blocs has been broken. Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be prime minister and he will be the one to form the next government.

The results that are slowly coming in are extremely worrying for many Israelis, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The far right Hatzionut Hadatit (Religious Zionist Party), which includes Bezalel Smotrich, the organizer of the infamous Cattle Parade, a parade of cattle that marched at the same time as the Jerusalem Pride Parade, did well. Itamar Ben Gvir, who regularly protests against Pride parades and supports so-called conversion therapy, and Avi Maoz, whose anti-LGBTQ+ agenda is based on preserving family values, are also members of the party.

The Otzma Yehudit party and Hatzionut Hadatit include new, unfamiliar figures who may turn out to be much more extreme than Smotrich and Ben Gvir in regards to their attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, women and other minorities.

Does the LGBTQ+ community have to worry about the election results?

Even before the formation of the government, it is already clear that LGBTQ+ representation in the Knesset will decrease. After a Knesset with five openly LGBTQ+ representatives, the next Knesset will have only three LGBTQ+ members and they will all be men: Amir Ohana from the Likud party and Yorai Lahav and Idan Roll from Yesh Atid.

Another concern for the LGBTQ+ community is the fear that Meretz, the first party that supported LGBTQ+ rights and has historically been the political home for the members of the LGBTQ+ community, will not earn enough seats to get its representatives into the Knesset, which would give the Netanyahu bloc a crushing victory.

The achievements achieved by the LGBTQ+ community in the previous Knesset may also be in danger. 

The LGBTQ+ community over the past year has managed to achieve a number of significant achievements that include the repeal of the ban on gay men from donating blood, the approval of surrogacy for male couples, reforms of the Committee for Gender Reassignment, the promotion of activities for LGBTQ+ Arabs and a budget of 90 million NIS ($24,460,991) for local authorities all over the country to carrying out activities for the benefit of the LGBTQ+ community.

Due to the complexity of the previous government that was made up of different parties from all ends of the political spectrum — from Naftali Bennett on the right to Meretz and Ra’am on the left — all of these achievements did not come through legislation, but through regulations that various ministers implemented. This fact may be to the community’s detriment, because new government ministers could just as easily reverse them.

The far-right’s goal of reforming the justice system could also hurt LGBTQ+ achievements, some of which resulted from Supreme Court decisions. The legislation of the Override Clause will give the Knesset the authority to re-enact a law that the High Court has invalidated, thereby overruling Supreme Court decisions.

Poll indicates most LGBTQ+ Israelis fear right-wing government

In a study the Israeli Institute for Gender and LGBTQ Research at the Aguda conducted before the election, 87 percent of LGBTQ+ Israelis said that they fear the next Knesset will violate their rights. This fear is not only from the lack of promotion of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation, but also from the promotion of regulations and laws that will actively harm LGBTQ+ organizations. 

If the right-wing government fulfills its promises, it would remove the LGBTQ+ education organization Hoshen from schools, end financial support for Israel Gay Youth, ban hormone treatments for Transgender people and provide financial support for organizations that offer conversion therapy. And as we have learned during all the years of the LGBTQ+ struggle, when public figures incite against members of the community, this affects the public and the verbal cancellation turns into discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in businesses, bullying in schools against LGBTQ+ students and physical assaults in the street.

How LGBTQphobic will the next government be?

The results of the elections in Israel are the will of the Israeli voter. The people of Israel gave a significant power to parties that seek to harm the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, but these parties were not necessarily elected due to being anti-LGBTQ+. 

The fact that Ben Gvir and Smotrich and their parties received significant support is not necessarily about LGBTQ+ issues, but it is mainly based on the state of internal security in Israel. Violence and crime in large areas of the country that have become no man’s land, the internal terrorism that culminated in riots in Arab Jewish cities in May 2021, and the disappointment of many from the right-wing parties that entered the last government together with an Arab party caused many voters, some of them LGBTQ+, to vote for extreme right-wing parties.

Another parameter that helped Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the election is the timing. 

They entered an election system in which there is no other right-wing party except Likud. All the right-wing leaders (Avigdor Lieberman, Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar) moved towards the center-left and new, more extreme right-wing leaders who previously failed to enter the Knesset filled the vacuum.

The people of Israel are patiently waiting to see what the results will be and how the map of the blocks will look. We still won’t know which government will be formed, even after the final results are announced. Netanyahu will receive the mandate from the president and will begin the task of forming the government, which history has already taught us is impossible to predict how it will end. Israeli politics is unpredictable and full of surprises, and any possibility we didn’t think about can become a reality.

It is likely that in the first phase Netanyahu will choose to form a narrow right-wing government with his natural ultra-orthodox and Religious Zionist partners. In this case, Netanyahu will depend on extremist Zionist elements, such as Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and even Maoz, each of whom has the power to topple the government.  

The question is whether those parties will use their power to harm LGBTQ+ achievements and even enact anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and if so, how will the more liberal Likud members, LGBTQ+ members and their supporters, will react to these proposals, and whether both parties will be willing to endanger the right-wing government on this subject?

Later, difficulties at home, including excessive demands of the extreme parties, or international pressure from the outside, may cause Netanyahu to strive to expand the government, and perhaps even to replace the extreme elements with more moderate centrist elements such as Benny Gantz. Such a government would be less anti-LGBTQ+, but even here the chance of promoting LGBTQ+ issues is almost non existent, and it is likely that there will be no progress with what will remain. No anti-LGBTQ+ laws will be promoted either.

Two points to consider

The first one is how the new Knesset members who proudly declared themselves to be LGBTQphobic will sit in a coalition and cooperated with Ohana, a gay MP and a father for two children who he had via surrogate. 

The second one is how will Netanyahu and the secular Likud members deal with the extreme demands of the religious parties, which range from the closing of places of entertainment on Shabbat, the termination of women’s service in the IDF, and the application of Torah laws to the judicial system.

“Just as the outgoing government protected the rights of all citizens of the country, the incoming government is also expected to do the same.,” outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the LGBTQ+ community who will not enter the next Knesset, said. “If Smotrich or Ben Gvir think they will harm women’s rights, LGBTQ or Arabs, a large and strong front will stand in front of them and will prevent this from them.”

Will the opposition to this new government will be strong and determine enough to stop these scenarios from happening? 

Only time will tell. 

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Gay Palestinian man killed, decapitated in West Bank

Ahmed Hacham Hamdi Abu Markhieh had sought refuge in Israel

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Ahmed Hacham Hamdi Abu Markhieh (Photo courtesy of social media)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

HEBRON, West Bank — The decapitated body of Ahmed Hacham Hamdi Abu Markhieh was discovered in Hebron on Oct. 5 with his head cut off and lying beside it.

Marakhia, a 25-year-old Palestinian, has been living in Israel for the past two years. He fled after he was persecuted and received death threats because of his sexual orientation.

Rumors about Markhieh’s death started to circulate after a video on social media showed his body lying on the side of the road. Markhieh’s friends in Israel, who feared for his safety after he did not arrive at work in the morning, immediately linked his disappearance to the video and assumed that the body on the video was Marakhia’s body.

Markhieh’s relatives, who live in the Palestinian Authority, issued a statement that acknowledged their mourning, but did not comment on the circumstances of his death.

“This is a very ugly crime,” one of his relatives told Al Karama, a Palestinian radio station, while asking for the family’s privacy to be respected after “this heinous and unprecedented crime that shocked the homeland.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas R. Nides responded to the murder and said he was “shocked and horrified by the murder and beheading of Ahmed Abu Murkia in Hebron.” 

“Violence against LGBTQI+ people is unacceptable,” said Nides.

It is not clear how Marakhia traveled from Israel to the Palestinian territories.

His acquaintances in Israel believe he was kidnapped in Israel and brought back to Hebron, where he was murdered. According to them, Marakhia had no reason to return to Hebron by himself, especially because the danger posed to his life. Even his closest friends who helped him in Israel claim that this is the reason for his murder.

“He said that people in his village wanted to kill him,” said his acquaintances in Israel. “He was afraid of his brothers, his uncles, his cousins.”

The Palestinian police who are investigating the case have arrested a suspect in the murder, but they have not classified it as a hate crime. They also have not identified a potential motive for the murder.

“This is a new type of crime that we are not used to in Palestinian society,” said Loay Irzikat, a spokesman for the Palestinian police. “This is a dangerous development and it must be examined and analyzed broadly and deeply in order to understand why the incident developed in this way.”

Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights activist, has claimed Marakhia’s death has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

“To Israeli media and Israeli leftists, Ahmed Abu Markhieh was not killed in Hebron because he was gay”, Amro tweeted, “No one in Hebron knew that he was gay, and the killer was his close friend, who lost his brain because of drugs, so please be accurate about it.”

Markhieh planned to move to Canada

While in Israel, Ahmed was active in the community and participated in an Arab LGBTQ+ group in the south. The many friends who knew him from volunteering describing a sensitive, brave and optimistic man who did everything he could to start a new life in Canada.

In order to promote his immigration application, Ahmed was assisted by Al Bait Al Mokhtalef (The Different House), a group that assists Palestinian LGBTQ+ and women in submitting asylum applications abroad.

“LGBTQ and Palestinian women who fled Palestinian Authority territories in danger for their lives due to their sexual orientation or gender identity do not receive any status in Israel and are prevented from submitting an asylum application as asylum seekers from other countries do,” explained Different House CEO Rita Petrenko. “After a long legal battle of human rights organizations, the state specifically opened the process of issuing ‘residence permits for welfare needs’ to LGBTQ people and Palestinian women.

Since this is a different process from the asylum application process, it causes them to lose some of the rights granted to asylum seekers, and deprives them of services intended for other asylum seekers. As of July 2022, Palestinians with residence permits for welfare purposes can receive work permit, which should be a great relief. But this still does not give them stability in life, because their status is not permanent. For most of them, the only solution is to ask the United Nations Commission for assistance in resettlement in a third country.”

The Different House helps those LGBTQ+ people mainly in dealing with the bureaucracy in the civil administration and getting or renewing a residence permit. The Different House also offers access to shelters, clinics and hospitals.

“We are cooperating with certain Knesset members for the purpose of changing policy. But we do not receive aid from the state for activities on behalf of Palestinian LGBTQs. There is assistance from the Ministry of Social Equality and the Beer Sheva municipality for social activities of Arab LGBTs in the south, in which Palestinians can of course participate,” said Petrenko. “We also collaborating with human rights organizations such as Doctors for Human Rights, the HIAS association, legal clinics, etc.”

Markhieh murdered less than a month before Israel elections

The difficult questions raised by Markhieh’s murder do not remain within the borders of the Palestinian Authority. They have been asked throughout Israel as well.

Media coverage of Markhieh’s murder undermine the sense of security among members of the LGBTQ+ community in Israel; and the case raises many questions among the members of the community concerning their personal safety. Community members have also demanded that the Israeli government will take care of the safety of those staying within its borders.

Less than a month before the elections in Israel, Markhieh’s shocking murder is even used by the politicians as a tool to confront their political opponents, as far as the LGBTQ+ issues are concerned.

Right-wing politicians have taken advantage of the opportunity to point out the cruelty of the political partners of the left-wing parties, which include the Arab parties Ra’am and the Joint List, and to emphasize that the aspiration for the establishment of a Palestinian state is the establishment of an ISIS state that executes LGBTQ+ people. In response, the left-wing activists emphasize that the right-wing parties teamed up with Jewish anti-LGBTQ+ parties, which are based on an anti-LGBTQ agenda, just to return to power.

There are currently around 100 LGBTQ+ Palestinians in Israel who received a residence permit to live in the country after fleeing the Palestinian territories due to their sexual orientation. But apart from the possibility of working, they do not receive refugee status that regulates their civil rights, and most of them are in some stage of immigrating to a third country, far from those to seek to do them harm.

The Different House believes that in order to save those Palestinians from Markhieh’s cruel fate, the state must help submit those requests and speed up their processing because these are life and death cases.

“First of all, what the state needs to do is to allow LGBTQ people and Palestinian women to submit asylum applications in the same way as LGBTQ people from other countries, and accordingly to carry out a process of permanent status or resettlement in a third country,” Petrenko says, “Most of the Palestinian LGBTQ people staying in Israel are afraid to stay in Israel, because they are afraid that they could be found here as well. The state can help by granting them asylum seeker status during the waiting period, similar to all other asylum seekers. 

For those who are unable to leave for unusual reasons, the state should enable a process similar to the one used in the process of recognizing a refugee and at the end of which permanent status is granted.”

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Internet blacked out for 4th day as violent protests continue in Iran

Protests by Iranians included women setting headscarves on fire in the streets resulted with harsh reaction from Iranian security services

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Protests escalate in Tehran and across Iran (Photo courtesy of Iran Human Rights)

PARIS, France – For the fourth consecutive day the government of Iran has blocked internet access as tens of thousands across the Islamic Republic continue to protest the violent crack-down following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested by Iran’s “morality police” over a week ago.

London, UK-based news agency Iran International reported that Amini had traveled from a Kurdish region in Saqqez to the Iranian capital city of Tehran where there was a confrontation in the streets and she was arrested in her brother’s car by the Islamic religious police.

Amini had been arrested for violating the nation’s strict Islamic laws requiring women to wear head scarves known as hijabs by the notorious police units who enforce Iran’s codes on hijabs and other conservative Islamic modes of dress and behavior.

Within twenty-two hours of her arrest she was taken to Kasra Hospital in northern Tehran where she died without regaining consciousness. According to her family members she was badly beaten by police in the prisoner transport van immediately after her arrest.

Mahsa Amini in hospital (Family photo provided to Iran International news agency)

At hospital Amini was found suffering from “multiple blows” to the head and a hospital source told Iran International news agency additional her lungs were filled with blood when she was transferred to the hospital and it was clear that she “could not be revived.” 

The source emphasized that Mahsa’s condition “was such that she could not be saved nor was surgery possible because her brain tissue was seriously damaged and it was clear that the patient was not injured by a single punch and must have received many blows to her head.”

Her death on Friday, September 16 sparked protests that began to escalate, first in Tehran and then spreading across the country. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in an effort to quell the growing acts of dissent and protest promised Amini’s family two days after her dying that her death would be investigated. Iran’s chief justice, Mohseni Ejei, also promised a full investigation.

There were multiple international calls including the acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif, who said in a statement; “Mahsa Amini’s tragic death and allegations of torture and ill-treatment must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by an independent competent authority, that ensures, in particular, that her family has access to justice and truth.”

The protests by Iranians outraged by Amini’s death included some women setting their headscarves on fire in the streets. Reaction from Iranian security services has been harsh with thousands arrested and at least 54 who have died according to Iranian state media and human rights groups.

U.N. Commissioner Al-Nashif said the compulsory veiling laws remain of concern in Iran, where appearing in public without a hijab is punishable by imprisonment.

In recent months, the morality police have expanded street patrols, subjecting women perceived to be wearing “loose hijab” to verbal and physical harassment and arrest. The UN Human Rights Office has received numerous, and verified, videos of violent treatment of women, including slapping women across the face, beating them with batons and throwing them into police vans.

“The authorities must stop targeting, harassing, and detaining women who do not abide by the hijab rules,” said Al-Nashif, calling for the repeal of all discriminatory laws and regulations that impose mandatory hijab.

Iran Human Rights and other sources report that at least 54 people have been killed by security forces in protests across Iran. In many cases, returning the bodies are made contingent on secret burials. Hundreds have also been injured or arrested.

Authorities have been dispersing demonstrators with water cannons and in some cases live ammunition. “The Iranian people are demanding rights that have been taken away from them by the Islamic Republic for more than 40 years. Now the Islamic Republic is responding to their peaceful protests with bullets,”  Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director Iran Human Rights told the Blade in an email adding: ““Condemnations and expressions of concern are no longer enough. The international community and anyone that adheres to human rights principles, must now support the Iranian people’s demands.”

With the Internet blocked by the government of Iran including banning use of mobile apps WhatsApp and Instagram two of the most popular social media services in Iran, information is being sent out through other channels.

In addition Signal, Google Play and the App Store are all down and their websites have been filtered. Internet disruptions have delayed information getting out about protesters that have been killed, wounded or arrested. As such, the number of deaths cited are protesters killed prior to September 23. True figures on the number of people injured and killed in the protests are unclear, but the tally is rising.

Wired magazine reported Iran started shutting the internet down on September 19 as protests around Amini’s death gained momentum. Since then, multiple internet-monitoring organizations, including Kentik, NetblocksCloudflare, and the Open Observatory of Network Interference, have documented the disruptions. Mobile network operators, including the country’s biggest providers—Irancell, Rightel, and MCI—have faced rolling blackouts, the groups say. Multiple mobile providers have lost connectivity for around 12 hours at a time, with Netblocks saying it has seen a “curfew-style pattern of disruptions.”

Felicia Anthonio, who leads NGO Access Now’s fight against internet shutdowns, says the group’s partners have reported that text messages containing Amini’s name have been blocked. “If you’re sending a message containing that name, it doesn’t go through,” Anthonio says.

“Shutting down mobile internet service has become a go-to for the Iranian government when dealing with civil unrest,” says Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at monitoring firm Kentik, who has been following the shutdowns. “People were using these services to share videos of the protests and the government’s crackdown, so they became targets of government censorship.”

Sources tell the Blade that anti-government demonstrators include LGBTQ activists standing in solidarity with women in the country.

The BBC and CBS reported in Tehran, marching demonstrators chanted “death to Khamenei” and “death to the dictator,” referring to the country’s supreme leader, 83-year old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Crowds of protestors pushed back against Iranian security forces, known as the “basij,” with videos shared on social media showing uniformed officers running away as people cheered.

As protests continue to escalate and spread there is fear that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, (IRG) will step in with a massive crackdown. The IRG has already issued two statements this past week that condemned the protests as an organized conspiracy by enemies of Iran. 

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights from the victims’ of police violence and having reviewed video evidence, security forces have been using disproportionate force and live ammunition to suppress peaceful protests in the last few days, a clear and gross violation of international law.

ABC News GMA- Protests in Iran turn deadly:

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Billed as the “Great Family Walk,” homophobic Turk groups protest

Speakers told the crowds that they were taking action to combat the “LGBT lobby,” which they alleged “has become a global problem”

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Anti-LGBTQ+ protestors gather in Saraçhane Park in the Fatih District, Istanbul to listen to Kürşat Mican (pictured) & other anti-LGBTQ+ rally organizers. (Photo Credit: Kürşat Mican/Twitter)

ISTANBUL – Despite heavy downpours mixed with light rain showers, ten thousand plus anti-LGBTQ+ protestors gathered in this ancient city and principal seaport of Turkey this past Sunday, Sept 18, protesting what organizers said was to protect their children from the “LGBTQ terrorist propaganda agenda.”

Billed as the ‘Great Family Walk’ lead organizer Kürşat Mican, speaking to the crowds gathered, demanded that the Turkish government ban all LGBTQ+ activities and shut down all LGBTQ+ organizations. The organizers were also demanding that Turkey’s parliament ban what they called LGBTQ “evil” which they claimed pervades Netflix, social media, arts and sports in the country.

Gathering at Saraçhane Park, protestors carried signs with the slogan “Protect your family and generation, the speakers in addition to Mican told the crowd that they were taking action to combat the “LGBT lobby,” which they alleged “has become a global problem.”

In a tweet Monday, Mican wrote (Translated from Turkish): “The fact that tens of thousands of people from all walks of life came together to put a stop to #LGBTdayatması [#LGBTimposition] and draw attention to the danger is an indication of how much our ‘Necip Nation’ values [Reference to Necip Fazil Kisakürek, Turkish poet, novelist, playwright, and Islamist ideologue ] his family and generation. No lobby can bring this strong will to its knees, biiznillah! [Will of Allah]

Sunday’s protests against LGBTQ rights was organized by Mican, Ersin Çelik and non-governmental organizations. The march, in which 150 non-governmental organizations participated, had a great impact organizers claimed.

Ersin Çelik, a writer for a conservative, Islamist Turkish daily newspaper, Yeni Şafak [New Dawn] has been fighting against LGBTQ rights and making efforts to what he has said on his social media accounts is to “protect young people and children from this trap,” called for the march on his social media account.

Mican and other organizers had also circulated a video prior to Sunday’s rally that showed clips from previously LGBTQ+ Pride parades, which was then also broadcast as a public service announcement by Turkish State Media, prompting an angered response from the country’s LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and activists.

Others who supported the rally included a popular female Turkish writer known by her pseudonym of Tahteşşuûr who tweeted: “LGBT looking for children to recruit! God damn you. #LGBTdayatması [#LGBTimposition]”

This year,  hundreds of LGBTQ+ people, allies, and supporters took to the streets of Istanbul this past June in defiance of the Turkish government’s ongoing 2014 ban of LGBTQ+ Pride parades and Pride Month festivities. Protestors violently clashed repeatedly with police and security forces in various neighborhoods located around the Bol Ahenk Sokak (Pedestrian Plaza) and other sections of the central downtown areas.

Government security forces arrested over 373 people and the largest Turkish LGBTQ+ activist group Ankara-based Kaos GL documented the arrests and clashes which occurred prior to the 5 p.m. planned parade kick-off in a series of Twitter posts.

Turkish Media Independent Media/News Outlet Ahval has reported that Turkey’s LGBTQ+ groups accuse the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of waging a “hate campaign” against them, encouraging violence against a vulnerable community.

Turkey has ranked second worst country in the European Union for LGBT people, scoring only above Azerbaijan, according the 2022 “Rainbow Europe” ranking compiled by Brussels-based NGO advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, ILGA-Europe.

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