Nothing to Be Proud of: Madrid's Gay Pride Parade Bans Israel
Summer's here, and in Europe, that means it is time for rainbow-hued floats to head down the streets of capitals, shirts to come off, flamboyant wigs to come on, and dance music to begin pumping: it's gay pride parade season.
This year's Madrid parade, scheduled for July 3, was going to be a landmark event for the Israeli homosexual and lesbian community. For the first time, the culturally influential gay Israeli community was going to have a representative float at the Spanish parade -- one of the world's largest, with more than a million participants. The invitation was considered so significant that one of the sponsors of the Israeli float in the parade was the Tel Aviv municipality.
The "TLV Love Embassy" bus had been slated to ride in the parade as part of a Tel Aviv-Madrid collaboration, intending to kick off a campaign promoting Tel Aviv as a gay travel destination. Despite the influence of religious elements in the government who are not supporters of gay pride -- to put it mildly -- the Israeli government, over the past several years, has made it a point to encourage gay culture to act as an international ambassador for Israel in leftist circles, where any positive word about the Jewish state is an achievement, and to put Tel Aviv on the map as a travel destination for the gay community. The festivities in Madrid were extensive, including "a large Tel Aviv party to be held in the Spanish capital's entertainment complex led by Israeli DJs and artists, as well as meetings between the Madrid and Tel Aviv community leaders."
But alas, in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, the organizers of the Madrid parade folded quickly to pressure to get rid of the Israeli participants.
Before the invitation was officially withdrawn, it was reportedly "hinted" to the Israelis that their participation in the event would be an "embarrassment" and would mean the additional expense of increased security. When the Israelis failed to take the hint and voluntarily stay home, the axe fell on them. The Israeli organizations who had been enthusiastically planning their trips expressed their "disappointment." Foreign Ministry official Yossi Levy called the cancellation of the invitation:
An ugly scandal that turns the pride parade into a shame parade. ... Israel is the only country in the Middle East that holds pride parades, hangs pride flags on the streets, and respects the gay and lesbian community's rights. The primitive politicization and the blatant capitulation to the terror and violence of anti-Israeli elements go against the Pride Parade's principle of preventing discrimination. ... Those who decided to prevent Tel Aviv's representatives from participating are dragging the Pride Parade into the hallways of the anti-Israeli inquisition instead of marching on the path of tolerance and dialogue.
Those who are truly interested in lesbian and gay rights should welcome Israel with open arms as a model of tolerance in an intolerant region.
While a few other countries in the Middle East -- Jordan, Iraq, Cyprus, and Turkey (for now) -- do not criminalize homosexuality, Israel is the only country in the region where gays are protected by anti-discrimination laws. It is also the only country to recognize same-sex marriages performed abroad, allowing foreign partners to apply for and receive residency permits and allowing gay spouses to receive benefits and pensions. Gay partners in Tel Aviv are essentially common-law spouses. In a country where everyone serves in the military, a "don't ask, don't tell" policy is non-existent. Openly gay soldiers serve in all branches of the Israeli Defense Forces.
There are gay pride festivals held in cities across Israel. Numerous politicians, artists, and other public figures are openly gay, and gay and lesbian advocacy organizations are plentiful and vocal in standing up for the rights of homosexual Israelis.
Also apparently of no interest to the Madrid organizers is that the Israeli gay community does what it can to support homosexual Palestinians.
All three organizations that advocate and support homosexual Palestinians are headquartered in Israel. On an individual level, the Israeli gay community often hides gay Palestinians from the Israeli authorities, for fear that they will be sent back to their home communities where they are ostracized and threatened for their sexual preferences. From the website GlobalGayz.com:
Since Palestine is a very homophobic culture many Palestinian gays and lesbians are forced against their cultural and religious will to hide in Israel where homosexuality is much more acceptable and, indeed, protected.
Like their counterparts worldwide, the Israeli gay community is one of the most progressive and left-wing in the country. One Israeli gay rights organization, Black Laundry, describes itself as "a direct action group of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, and others against the occupation and for social justice."
But neither Israel's exemplary record on gay issues nor the hostility towards homosexuals by Hamas and its supporters seems to have made any impression on the gay Spaniards. What the head of the Madrid Gay Collective, which organizes the parade, told the Spanish publication Libertad Digital (Spanish link) contradicted any excuse of security concerns, painting the decision in clearly political colors. He said that Israelis -- including the gay community -- are "the executioners and now they want to play the victim."
Only one thing can be said in their defense. Sadly, their claim that there would need to be extra security to protect the Israeli representatives is truly justified in today's Spain, and not a mere excuse. No event that publicly includes Israel appears to be safe these days.
On Tuesday, a renewable energy conference sponsored by the Spain-Israel Chamber of Commerce was interrupted when 200 protestors burst into the hall and accosted three Israeli businessmen:
According to Spanish media, the organizers, who feared acts of protest over last week's deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, changed the conference's venue at the last minute. However, the activists discovered the new location and stormed in while chanting, "Murderers, murderers. Get out of Gaza", and "Freedom to the Palestinian people."
Madrid police were alerted to the scene and escorted the Israeli businessmen out of the university. The protesters threw stones, paint, and other objects at the police patrol cars as they were heading out of the institution. One of the Israelis, Emefcy CEO Eytan Levy, was hit by a rock that shattered the windshield of one of the police vehicles. Levy was treated at the scene but asked not to be evacuated to a hospital. Madrid police launched an investigation into the incident, but no arrests have been made as of yet.
Most of the rioters were Muslim, police said.
Spanish, Muslim, or both, the rioters accomplished their mission -- the conference was canceled. Together with the withdrawal of the invitation to the parade, it was a double victory for Spain's Israel-hatred community.