Tag Archives: middle east

What you need to know about Israel’s Christian minority

In the Gatestone Institute’s August report on Christian persecution, Raymond Ibrahim described the brutal, rampant and global Islamic persecution of Christians and other minorities, including violations of religious freedom, harassment, detention, torture, and executions. The accounts are too abundant and tragic to list in full, as many involve gruesome persecution, murder, and rape happening in Eritrea, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Uganda, Bangladesh, Congo, Philippines, Egypt, Tanzania, Pakistan, Germany, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria. Ibrahim concluded, “such Muslim persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place in all languages, ethnicities, and locations.”

Jonathan Elkoury speaks about his life as an Israeli Christian after fleeing Lebanon. Credit: Eliana Rudee.

Jonathan Elkoury speaks about his life as an Israeli Christian after fleeing Lebanon. Credit: Eliana Rudee.

Such was Jonathan Elkhoury’s conclusion when he spoke last week at the Jerusalem Salon, an organization bringing English lectures and discussions to Jerusalem, about his experience fleeing from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah’s rule in Lebanon. Elkhoury fled to Israel with family after his father, a former South Lebanon Army (SLA) officer, had to leave his homeland during Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000. Now that he’s found safe refuge in Israel, Elkhoury writes and talks about the situation of Israeli Christians and minorities to various audiences and advocates for the Christian Empowerment Council (CEC) in Israel. Elkoury concludes that to improve the life of Christians everywhere, Israeli Christians should speak out about their positive experiences as minorities in Israel. “The Christian society is one of the successful minorities in Israel,” he said. “There are people in high positions in education, in hospitals, courts – everywhere you look you will find a Christian in a high position. They are a quiet yet successful community, and they are not speaking out enough.”

In 2000, when some 1,200 South Lebanon Army families escaped to Israel, the Israeli authorities provided for them, including his own. “We got a lot of help from the Israeli society,” Elkoury said. “We were welcomed because of the SLA’s contribution to Israel. Many people gave money to us so we could have trips, study about Israel, and learn more. They tutored us, and did everything to make us feel comfortable and feel at home. Our role as Christians in Israel is to show a different story to the media by telling our personal stories about our lives here in Israel. At my school, more than 50 percent of the students are Arabs and they have an extra half an hour on every test. The education system is doing everything so minorities can succeed and have good grades. We need to show people what is going on in our lives. There are a lot of people trying to use the 130,000 Christians in Israel for a political, anti-Israel agenda, and people are not speaking out.”

The unfortunate reality is many of these people are scared to speak out in support of Israel, as the Arab population of Israel views them as traitors to Lebanon and to Hezbollah. “I was nine years old when we moved here, and I needed to go to school,” he said. “Two days after we landed in Israel, the Arab schools didn’t accept us and said we were traitors that we betrayed our country, and we will not be accepted by their society.” Elkhoury chose to speak to Arabic speakers in Hebrew, out of fear of them recognizing his Lebanese accent, rejecting him, and even threatening him. He still gets some threatening messages and is constantly afraid something will happen to his family in Lebanon.

Nonetheless, he recognizes that the Arab and Muslim rejection that Christians face is much worse in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. “Their churches are destroyed and they are persecuted,” he said. A priest was killed two years ago in the Gaza Strip. A temple was lit on fire. The bishop was attacked on Christmas Eve in the West Bank, and nobody is talking about it. We must show this side of the story that nobody talks about.”

People don’t talk about their experiences until they leave the oppressive countries out of fear of being killed. Indeed, Christians are leaving by the thousands. In Lebanon, Christians once numbered 80 percent of the population but were driven out and now are a mere 20 percent. And the same thing is happening in Bethlehem, where, in 1995, Christians numbered 20 percent of the population, while today they’re just two percent. “You can’t imagine their stories,” Elkoury said.

As for his family, they’re doing well in Israel. His father tells him, “I know that I was successful in my choice [to come to Israel] if you are successful in your life.”  Elkoury, like his father, is optimistic about the future of Christians in Israel and in the Middle East. “More and more Christians are aware of what is happening in the Arab world and in Israel. I think we are heading towards a better future,” he said. Indeed, through telling his story and educating the Christian sector, Elkoury is one of the few people creating that better future for his fellow Israeli Christians and Christian minorities around the world.

Originally published on JNS.org.

Contributed by 2011-2012 CAMERA Fellow at Claremont Colleges, Eliana Rudee.

Journalism: The Bias is Breeding from Within Israel

The wonderful and terrible thing about journalism is that it frequently presents truth with a subtle hint of opinion.

Regardless of how a journalist writes—through his choice of subject matter, his focus on details or lack thereof, and his ability or inability to truly and intrinsically understand the circumstances of the people and ideas behind his news story—his voice will most likely reflect ever so slightly in his writing. Likewise, a newspaper’s objectives will often shine through the articles they publish and the journalists they promote.

Antisemitism in Europe. (Photo: AP)

Antisemitism in Europe. (Photo: AP)

Providing an inside scoop into the world of journalism, former AP correspondent Matti Friedman testifies to the continuous bias against Israel, which presents the Jewish state as the alleged bad guy in the media’s Middle East narrative. Throughout his article in The Atlantic, Friedman expresses what he witnessed among the tendencies of journalists who come to discover and reveal the truth about the Middle East while reporting in Israel. “The media bias against Israel has become part of a progressive Western zeitgeist,” he argues. And journalists fall for it constantly.

For the lack of understanding Israel sufficiently or the need to fulfill writing quotas or perhaps the desire to make the right connections in the journalism community of Israel, Friedman writes that “Many journalists choose to strengthen the ongoing narrative of Israel as a colonialist regime against Arabs rather than dig for gritty, nuanced stories.”

Another former AP correspondent, Mark Lavie, confirms Friedman’s claim that the media, in this case the Associated Press, has an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian bias. Editors of AP chose to exclude an article about how Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered a peace treaty, which was then rejected by Palestinian leadership. After calling out the AP on this suspicious act, Friedman and Lavie ceased to work for the Associated Press.

Although this trend of journalists reporting on Israel through such a slight perspective is very worrisome, it is also very concerning that Haaretz, Israel’s very own leading newspaper, is whitewashed by its own translators.

In an ongoing project, Haaretz, Lost in Translation, Director of CAMERA’s Israel office, Tamar Sternthal, has been thoroughly reviewing and comparing the Hebrew and English versions of the internationally known newspaper since 2012. She continues to expose the the subtle bias of Haaretz articles as they are translated from Hebrew to English.

Translating is a tricky job. A translator must relay ideas and details, while also writing fluidly. Changing a few words here and there can be a just decision or perhaps a translator’s honest mistake. However, as Tamar Sternthal reveals, Haaretz has an unfortunate record of not relaying the truth and excluding critical details in subsequent translations from Hebrew to English.

Haaretz has corrected mistakes prompted by Rosenthal in the past.  However the newspaper has yet to fully address their translating staff’s tendency to follow after the anti-Israel bias of international media.

Anti-Semitism on campus.

Anti-Semitism on campus.

As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword, and the media’s anti-Israel slant does not help Israel’s efforts for peace, nor does it levy important criticism against Israel’s enemies who promote terror. Unfortunately, just as anti-Semitism is growing on campus, anti-Zionist tendencies are continuing in the media and to Israel’s dismay, the problem is encouraged by Israel’s own media outlet Haaretz. As CAMERA works hard to confront journalists and editors’  inaccurate contributions, news outlets need to reflect on their priorities. Further, journalists need to asks themselves: are they really providing readers with the honest truth?

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

Water Shortages – Scarier Than ISIS?

Israel is a country with constant droughts. A good year in Israel is a year full of rain. Since it is impossible to depend on a sufficient rainy season, Israelis have developed ways to preserve water resources and manage their limited water resources.

Israel water drip system. Source: Haaretz

Israel water drip system. Source: Haaretz

In the 1960’s, Israel’s famous water drip system was created. Dripping water onto plants rather than spraying copious amounts across fields allows farmers to hydrate their produce without wasting water.

In addition, the water used for agriculture is also heavily recycled. 80% of sewage water from Israeli homes is recycled for agriculture use.

Despite lacking resources, Israel manages to hydrate the whole country efficiently. While Hamas fails to develop a clean water supply in Gaza, which Israel gave to Arab control as part of a peace treaty in 2005, Israel fully supplies the Arabs in the West Bank with plenty of water.

Israelis have been working hard on this water issue since the 1960’s, when they developed a desalination system in order to use seawater. At the time, Israel had worked with Iran—both countries wanted to become seawater-based. For a few years, Iran also succeeded to create great water systems to hydrate the needs of Iranians.

However, as the Islamic revolution began, the efforts to build a great water system in Iran faded.

Along with many countries in the Middle East, good living standards in Iran are not currently the highest priority of the government. While citizens live poorly and suffer daily from constant political and social strife, water does not seem like such a big concern.

Seth Siegel, CAMERA speaker and author of Let There Be Water, begs to differ. Water is a critical issue in Iran and many other countries and if it is not confronted, it will come back to bite them. Or more accurately, leave them very thirsty.

Seth Siegel speaking at Cal Polytech CAMERA-supported event. Source: Mustangs United For Israel Facebook page

Seth Siegel speaking at Cal Polytech CAMERA-supported event. Source: Mustangs United For Israel Facebook page

Seth Siegel has spoken to a Mustangs United for Israel CAMERA-supported event at California Polytechnic State University on international water crises and works hard to advocate for the need to follow after Israel’s example of developing sufficient water systems.

Poly Tech student at CAMERA-supported event holding Seth Siegel's book, Let There Be Water. Source: Mustangs United for Israel Facebook page

Cal Polytech student at CAMERA-supported event holding Seth Siegel’s book, Let There Be Water. Source: Mustangs United for Israel Facebook page

While he has promoted water systems in California, which suffers from drought, Siegel is more concerned about water, or lack thereof, in politically torn countries.

Turkey holds power over the Tigris and Euphrates River. With control over these water sources, Turkey can withhold water resources from Syria and Iraq. That said, according to a recent study, Turkey does not even have an ample water supply and Syria is already creating a worrisome water deficit.

Similarly, Ethiopia is already suffering and is now competing with Egypt for access to the Nile. While Egypt has a good amount of water, the country uses their resources inefficiently and unfortunately Ethiopia and Yemen already lack sufficient water supply.

Seth Siegel points out the importance of developing sufficient water systems. The lack of water management is feeding the already-heated political tensions in the Middle East. As countries compete for water, and citizens fear they will not have enough, daily living conditions such as water supply may be turning the ideological fights of the Middle East into resource wars as well.

This continuing problem of water carries a lot of weight on security in the Middle East. However, as Seth Siegel argues, the problem could be averted. If Middle Eastern countries were willing to accept help from Israel, they could better manage their water supplies and also improve political relationships. Hopefully countries will begin to see Israel as part of a solution for their resource troubles, rather than continuing on to work against the state of Israel.

For more information on Seth Siegel’s book, Let There Be Water, visit his site.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

5 Reasons To Learn About Middle Eastern and African Jewry

The Jewish people have survived numerous atrocities, from slavery in Egypt, to the Spanish Inquisition, to the Farhud in Iraq and the Holocaust.  This history of struggle shows that it is necessary to stand up against hatred and evil.

Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) is an organization with an important mission. JIMENA raises awareness of the plight of Jewish refugees and other minorities of Sephardic and Mizrahi origin. This past April, a JIMENA representative spoke to students at a University of Southern California event hosted by CAMERA-supported group, SC Students for Israel. The event, “Erev Edot” or “night of nations” in Hebrew, was a multicultural program that encouraged students to reflect on their ancestry and learn about the heritage of others Jews.

JIMENA’s presentation at the event was very important—in general, the Ashkenazi Jewish narrative is more commonly known, especially among American Jews.

Just as the USC students learned at Erev Edot, here are the main reasons why it is important to educate yourself about Middle Eastern and African Jewish history:

1. Recognition of human suffering is a fundamental of human morality

Recognizing human plight within the different branches of our people, let alone throughout the nations of the world, is a necessity as moral human beings. The late Holocaust survivor and human rights activist, Elie Wiesel, would promote the importance of recognizing human suffering:

As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone.

Source: newantisemitism.com

Source: newantisemitism.com

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ruled that Jews fleeing Arab countries were bona fide refugees. Aside from recognizing them as refugees, the world has barely reacted to the hardships of the nearly one million Jews who, since 1948, have been displaced from Arab countries.

The lack of international response on this matter is a reminder for Jews to look out for their own people.  Therefore, it is essential to be aware of and informed regarding Middle Eastern and African Jewish atrocities.

2. A true Israel advocate must be a Jewish advocate first

Libyan Jews. Source: The Jewish Journal

Libyan Jews. Source: The Jewish Journal

Every Jew who wants to advocate for Israel must know about Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. If an Ashkenazi Jew, for example, wants to be able to claim a right in Israel as his homeland and call himself indigenous to the land, he must realize that this indigenousness is strongly rooted in the Middle-Eastern branches of the Jewish people.

While Ashkenazi Jews settled into European shtetl’s and spread out across the world, Middle Eastern and North African Jews only settled further into the Israeli region. The Sephardic, Mizrahi Jews’ continuing 2,500-year presence in the Middle East is fundamental for the Jewish people’s right to the land of Israel. So to preach for Israel, an advocate owes it to his Middle Eastern and North African Jewish brothers to preach for them as well.

3. Embracing diversity within the Jewish people is unifying

Two Sephardic Jews with an Ashkenazi in Jerusalem, 1895. Source: jewishhistory.org

Two Sephardic Jews with an Ashkenazi in Jerusalem, 1895. Source: jewishhistory.org

Knowing more about all kinds of Jews enriches one’s Jewish identity and unifies the Jewish people as a whole. In addition, studying Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry helps to balance and preserve the accuracy of their historical narrative.

This past March, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett addressed the need to teach the entire Jewish narrative. He argued that not including Mizrahi, Sephardic Jews in education curriculums is unacceptable. The complete Jewish story is comprised of many stories of different kinds of Jews which now will all be taught  in Israeli schools.

4. Their story is every Jew’s story

The Middle Eastern and African experience is a part of every Jew’s narrative—the Ashkenazi history is very much interconnected with the Sephardic history.

While Nazism spread throughout Europe, it also reached parts of the Middle East and North Africa during the 1930’s. Hitler once met with another enemy of the Jewish people, Palestinian Arab nationalist leader Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini supported Hitler and the evils of Nazism. Just as Hitler called to annihilate Jews, Husseini broadcasted to the Arab World to “Rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them.”

Considered the father of Palestinian Nationalism, Husseini supported Nazism. Source: Haaretz

Considered the father of Palestinian Nationalism, Husseini supported Nazism. Source: Haaretz

While Nazism took control, Arab Nationalism gained power over Jews and subjected them to severe mistreatment and abuse. After Israel was established in 1948, many Jews could make it to Israel but the plight of Middle Eastern Jews continued—Arab countries turned hostile to their own Jewish populations, making life intolerable for them.

5. Their rich culture has so much to offer the entire Jewish people

Pre-Wedding Henna Ceremony. Source: Jewish Journal

Pre-Wedding Henna Ceremony. Source: Jewish Journal

Aside from the moral reasons to be aware about Middle Eastern and African Jewry, it is a cultural loss to not learn about the Sephardic, Mizrahi narrative. Between Henna ceremonies, Ladino music, Iranian cuisine, their rich culture has so much to offer to all Jews. JIMENA works hard to preserve and bring this wonderful heritage fully back to life.

As a people that have survived and overcome tremendous suffering, the Jews should recognize the internal struggles of their own people. As a respect to their ancestors who suffered, Jews have an obligation to take initiative and learn about their people’s troubles as well as the world’s. By recognizing human plight, a person can then strive to contribute to his fellow man and help to repair the world.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz

Women’s Rights in the Middle East: Israel vs. The Rest

In honor of International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember that most women throughout the Middle East do not have rights as we know them.

For International Women’s Day, a compilation of challenges women continue to face was released by the Associated Press. Honor killings continue to take place in the Palestinian Territories. In Iraq, there are no laws protecting women against domestic violence. Female citizens in Saudi Arabia were only granted the right to vote in municipal elections in 2015 and are still forbidden from driving. Kuwaiti women earned this right a bit earlier in 2005. In Syria, however, women have recently earned seats in Parliament, but in northeastern region, where ISIS has much control, they are being forced to cover their whole bodies, including hands and faces. In Iran, women don’t have the right to attend sporting events where there’s a chance they may see men exercising.

Iran's supporters shout during the FIVB Men's Volleyball World Championship first round match between Iran and Italy in Milan September 27, 2010. © 2010 Reuters

Iran’s supporters shout during the FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championship first round match between Iran and Italy in Milan September 27, 2010. © 2010 Reuters

According to accounts from “My Stealthy Freedom,” a movement to help women escape the Iranian regime, “Iranian poets Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Musavi have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison and 99 lashes for ‘kissing on the cheeks and shaking hands as unrelated members of the opposite sex.'”

Source: My Stealthy Freedom Facebook Page

Source: My Stealthy Freedom Facebook Page

As members of the Western world, these figures should shock us, but unfortunately, this is reality for a large number of women within the Muslim world.

What should shock us even more though, is that just last year, the United Nations claimed that Israel was the greatest violator of women’s rights, and failed to mention Saudi Arabia and Iran.

As a woman living in Israel, who regularly travels throughout the country, from communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews to the shores of secular and extremely liberal Tel Aviv, I see every day that women of all faiths and denominations hold rights here. These rights allow women to wear anything they choose. Upon Israel’s establishment, the government modeled the country on the Jewish concept of free will. I see Muslim women wearing hijabs in the streets of Jerusalem, modern Orthodox women with hair coverings and baggy jeans, teenagers in leggings and belly shirts, Haredi women in stockings and shirts covering their collar bones, eighteen year olds in IDF uniforms, and female members of Israel’s Parliament wearing pant suits. We have laws protecting us from domestic violence. We have been allowed to drive since roads were paved. We were granted the right to vote on the momentous day we were granted a state.

Source: Humans of Tel Aviv FB

Source: Humans of Tel Aviv Facebook Page

When it comes to women’s rights, Israel holds itself to a high standard regarding its female citizens. The rest of the Middle East could learn from this model, but true freedom for all does not seem to be its top priority.

Contributed by Bar-Ilan University CAMERA Intern Jasmine Esulin.

Diversity in the Middle East: Featuring Zion Uness

zion unessclark

Did you know that there are over 125,000 Ethiopian Jews living, serving, and working in Israel? Do you want to learn more about the diverse population of Israel and how cultures intersect? If so, please join CAMERA’s Emet for Israel supported organization at Clark University, Clarkies for Israel (CFI) in an open dialogue with Zion Uness on Monday, February 22nd.

“Mr. Uness’ courageous story is one of hardship, but also one of triumph over adversity. His experiences as a refugee during the rescue airlift are demonstrative of Israel’s excellent commitment to human rights,” stated CAMERA Fellow and CFI Board Member Patrick Fox.

Mr. Uness arrived in Israel as a result of the mass-airlift event Operation Moses in 1984. He later served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and got his degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Haifa. He will be speaking about his journey to Israel on foot in Sudan, his service in the military, and the life he lives today.

“I hope the event generates more interest within my campus to learn more about Israel,” added Shannon Herman, CFI’s President.

Please attend the event to learn about the Ethiopian Israeli Jewish community and feel free to ask any questions you may have. All are welcome. There will be FREE FOOD! Click here to sign up for the event via Facebook.

The event will be taking place in the Grace Conference Room in the University Center at Clark.

Hosted by Clarkies for Israel, an Emet for Israel supported group, and the Hillel Israel & Zionism Committee.

Co-Sponsored by CAMERA on Campus and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

Raise Your Voice

On November 20th, 2015, Students United, the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Emet for Israel supported group, hosted an event called “Raise Your Voice,” which turned out to be a huge success.

This CAMERA funded CUFI initiative was geared toward the Christian community on campus, and the goal was to raise awareness about the Christian persecution taking place in the Middle East. Students United also sought to present the positive role Israel has been playing in response to this series of recent attacks. The event showed how it is the only country in the region where Christians are free to practice their religion.

Initially, there were a number of setbacks in terms of planning the event, but there was a major turn around when the group successfully booked a speaker from Voice of the Martyrs, Carolyn Luce, and found a local musician to play as well.

The Voice of the Martyrs is a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting persecuted Christian families around the world. It was eye opening for students to hear Luce speak about the violence taking place against Christians, as well as to hear her perspective on Israel’s assistance. The audience interacted with Luce once she concluded her speech. She was able to address the current threats that Christians are facing throughout the Middle East, and answer all of the questions that were posed.

Prior to the event, students were not necessarily aware of the efforts Israel makes to ensure that tolerance of other faiths is maintained. As democratic nation, it is vital to uphold these freedoms for every individual. Students left the event feeling proud to be supporters of Israel because the facts brought up throughout the speech showed that the Jewish state defends the religious rights of everyone, not only Jews.

The attendees absolutely loved the event. It was a comfortable environment for them to cry over the suffering of these Christians, but to also make new friends and connect with people on a deeper level. Everyone learned something new and gained a greater awareness of current events.

Students United has already followed up with the speaker and the members in the audience through Facebook and email. The group is looking forward to building a stronger connection to these Christian clubs and inviting their members to future events.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Shades of blue and shady articles

CohenLindseyIn the mountains of Peru, a bright and beautiful blue color covers many windows and doors. The blue in Peru is the same blue that catches the attention of millions of tourists when they visit the mystical Israeli city of Tsfat. This similarity is no coincidence. Peru’s blue comes from the Spanish, who received it from the Muslim community. In Tsfat, that same blue comes directly from Muslim mysticism, a very heavy influence on Kabbalah and the center of Jewish mysticism, Tsfat.

Does the origin of the blue color make it any less Peruvian? Or any less associated with Tsfat? This week, an opinion piece was published in The Daily Free Press questioning the origin of Israeli food, going so far as to ask “is the lack of unique local heritage, or a lack of generations of traditions and culture, a significant enough reason to mislabel someone else’s?” completely ignoring thousands of years of Jewish history that contributed to Israeli culture today.

According to the article, Israel has no right to claim a cuisine of it’s own because of it’s people’s nomadic history. The author clearly doesn’t know much about Jewish cuisine or history. Jews were in the Middle East long before the Ottoman Empire spread it’s wings over the area, and our influence is felt in the most unlikely of cuisines. A nomadic lifestyle for 2,000 years did not hinder the growth of our food culture but in fact nurtured it. The dishes that we developed to accommodate our nomadic lifestyle and our particular religious regulations are distinctly Jewish. The thousands of Jews who were kicked out of Arab lands brought with them particular foods, including the Jewish tradition of slow cooker stews to accommodate a prohibition on cooking over the Sabbath. Israel’s food culture is not one of theft, but an example of the oldest tradition in history, where people share and collaborate on dishes, learn from each other and make it their own.  To claim that this is theft ignores a similar course that takes place in all parts of history — where Portuguese Jews influenced today’s British fish and chips, where Arab influence contributed to what we now know of as a taco, and where Muslim Mysticism influenced doors and windows in the mountains of Peru.


This was written by Boston University CAMERA Fellow Lindsey Cohen and was originally published in The Daily Free Press.

CAMERA Fellow Published: Israel and LGBTQ Rights

Contributed by Concordia University CAMERA Fellow Bradley Martin. This piece was published in the Link‘s special LGBTQ Issue. It is reproduced in full below. 

Israel and LGTBQ Rights

Why Israel Provides a Model for LGTBQ Rights Other Nations Should Follow

Published March 25, 2015

075While there is certainly much debate and controversy on the subject of Israel, the fact that it is a country with a remarkably progressive record on the subject of LGBTQ rights needs to be recognized.

Israel actually affords members of the LGBTQ community equal rights under the law, despite being surrounded by countries that persecute homosexuals. As such, this is a feature of Israeli life that should be examined and can even serve as an example for other states.

When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, it inherited “sodomy” laws from the British Mandate legal code. However, there is no record that such laws were enforced against homosexual acts that took place between consenting adults in private. The Knesset repealed the formal ban on consensual same-sex acts in 1988. Since 1993, homosexual soldiers have been able to openly serve in Israel’s military. Harassment and discrimination against Israeli soldiers due to their sexual orientation is illegal. Israel also recognizes gay marriages that are performed abroad and permits gay couples living in the country to adopt children.

In terms of gay culture, Israel has a thriving LGBTQ community with well-attended gay pride festivals held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem since 1998. Tel Aviv especially has become known as a city where, according to Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir, an estimated 16 per cent to 17 percent of the city’s population is gay. In a worldwide survey conducted by GayCities.com and American Airlines, it was declared “the best gay travel destination of 2011” with 43 per cent of the vote. Lonely Planet named it “one of its top three cities in the world.” Pride events have also been held regularly in Haifa, Be’er Sheva, Petah Tikva, Hadera, Ra’anana, Eilat, and Rishon LeTzion.

Contrast this to countries neighbouring Israel, such as Iran. In 2007, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bizarrely proclaimed at Columbia University, in response to a question about the execution of two gay men, that there were absolutely no homosexuals in his country. Not only is that statement patently false and utterly absurd, but homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran. Until recently, sodomy for men was considered a capital offence. In 2012, the Guardian reported, “under amendments to the penal code, the person who played an ‘active role’ will be flogged 100 times if the sex was consensual and he was not married, while the one who played a ‘passive role’ can still be put to death regardless of marriage status.”

Israel not only grants members of the LGBTQ community equal rights under the law, but also serves as a haven for gays persecuted by its neighbors such as in the Palestinian Authority. According to the BBC, in 2003 there were an estimated 300 gay Palestinian men secretly living in Israel. Israel has granted residency permits to openly gay Palestinians who fear they will be killed. Homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip, while LGBTQ rights are not protected in the West Bank. gay2This leaves gay Palestinians open for persecution by Islamic religious leaders, the Palestinian police and even members of their own families in the form of so-called “honour killings.” Many LGBTQ people in the West Bank have made it known that they feel more at home in Israel, where they can have a social life without fear of punishment from the government or private citizens.

Many things can certainly be said about Israel. But its exemplary record and policies when it comes to the protection of LGBTQ rights is something that should be commended. Progressive policies concerning the protection of homosexuals must be ensured, regardless of geographical location.

Bradley Martin is a Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) fellow and student at Concordia University.

Semester in Review: Brooklyn College

The Israel Club at Brooklyn College hosted Brooke Goldstein, a New York City-based human rights attorney, author, and award-winning filmmaker, for a discussion examining human rights issues in the Middle East with a focus on children in the West Bank and Gaza. The kickoff event, cosponsored by CAMERA and The Brooklyn College Chapter of The New York State Israel Public Affairs Committee (NYSIPAC), had a turnout of over 60 students, representing varying views. CAMERA Fellow and Israel Club Board Member, Hayeem Rudy, believed that “Goldstein’s talk shed light on the shocking violation of children’s rights perpetrated by extremist groups in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 5.35.15 PMLater in the semester, The Israel Club hosted a discussion with IDF Sergeant Benjamin Anthony, who talked about the ethical considerations that the Israeli military faces on a daily basis. This event was incredibly successful, bringing together over 80 students from across the Brooklyn College Campus. Rudy said that one student told him that this was the most eye-opening event he had ever attended at Brooklyn College.

Next semester, the pro-Israel club will continue hosting informative events, showcasing the great things about Israel besides the conversation about the Arab Israeli conflict. Rudy says that the group is “looking forward to bridging the gap between the students at Brooklyn College.”