Ambassador to US paints Israel as paradise for gays

Michael Oren: West Bank Palestinian gay rights organizations operate out of Israel.

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has a public image of a combative diplomat, who fights with determination for Israel's interests, sometimes against people with a different agenda. His wrangling with "60 Minutes" host Bob Simon a few weeks ago made waves. Oren's remarks often depict Israel almost as Sparta, as a country whose fight for survival is its priority.

On Saturday night, Oren presented another face of Israel: as a near paradise for gays. The remarks were made in his first and, so far only, speech in the US in which the issue of the Palestinians and the Iranian threat were pushed to the sidelines, and Israel was depicted as liberal country that welcomes, or at least tries to welcome, its gay and lesbian citizens.

Oren was a guest speaker the "Focus on Israel" event at the Global LGBT Summit in Equality Forum in Philadelphia. This was the first time that an Israeli ambassador has appeared before this event, although Oren has previously received LBGT activists at the ambassador's residence in Washington. A delegation of Israeli LBGT activists participated in the event.

Oren mentioned three cases that highlight Israel's liberal attitude toward the LBGT community: two women IDF soldiers who harassed a lesbian soldier were sentence by a military court to prison; and an Israeli diplomat, who received a top posting in Europe, asked and received without further ado full rights for his partner; and the Israeli government did not capitulate to intense pressure from religious parties to cancel the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, which was held to great success under heavy police protection.

"Our activists have faced many challenges, but they can build on a solid foundation of liberty," said Oren. "Today, Israel's LBGT community is part of the country's diverse and thriving social fabric. Together, we are soldiers, professors, legislators, judges, factory workers, members of the medical professions, and teachers. Together, we are not gays, heterosexuals, bisexuals, or transgenders, but proud Israelis."

Oren added, "In fact, two Palestinian organizations that are fighting for LBGT rights in the West Bank, operate out of Israel because they cannot operate freely in the Palestinian Authority."

Oren said that it is not difficult to be more liberal than Israel's neighbors, adding that Israel must be more advanced not only in the region, but in the world. "We must never cease our efforts to remove the remaining obstacles to total equal rights in Israel. We must ensure that these rights are guaranteed in law, and we must ensure that abuse at school, intolerance by certain religious circles, and public prejudice become unacceptable. Period," he said.

Embassy spokesman Lior Weintraub told "Globes" that Oren appearance at the LBGT summit was not unusual. It is part of his declaration, when he took up the post, that he wanted to present Israel to communities in America which are unfamiliar with Israel.

Israel's Consulate-General in Philadelphia is a partner in Equality Forum's Focus on Israel event.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 6, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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