World News

Israelis Protest Denial of Surrogacy Rights to Same-Sex Couples

Posted July 22, 2018 8:56 p.m. EDT

TEL AVIV, Israel — Waving rainbow flags and pushing strollers, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing, religious coalition Sunday after it blocked an effort to extend surrogacy rights to same-sex couples.

“This is the 21st century,” said Itzik Shmuli, a gay lawmaker from the Zionist Union party. “People are not seated at the back of the bus because of the color of their skin, and they will not be deprived of the right to be parents because of their orientation.”

“Netanyahu has sold the most important thing in our society to an extremist minority in his government for extraneous political interests: the value of equality,” he said.

In a law enacted last week, the government extended surrogacy rights to single women, but rejected an amendment that would have included same-sex couples and allowed gay men to father children through surrogates.

Support for gay rights is increasingly widespread in Israel, but the ultra-Orthodox, who wield significant influence in Netanyahu’s government, oppose any legislation condoning homosexuality, which they see as flouting Jewish law.

Although Netanyahu had endorsed surrogacy for same-sex couples Monday, he reversed himself Wednesday after ultra-Orthodox members of his coalition objected.

The defeat enraged Israel’s vocal gay community. Gay Israelis say they feel treated like full-fledged citizens when it comes to paying taxes and serving in the military — and appreciated for making Tel Aviv a gay tourist mecca — but shunned when it comes to marriage and parental rights.

Israeli men who wish to father children through surrogates must now do so out of the country, and say they often wind up spending upward of $100,000 in the process.

Gay-rights groups called a daylong strike Sunday, the start of Israel’s workweek, and scores of companies and institutions, including the national labor movement, encouraged workers to participate.

Throughout the day, protesters stopped traffic in Beersheva in the south, and Haifa and Afula in the north, and scuffled with the police near Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem.

The roads leading into central Tel Aviv were jammed late Sunday with people making their way to Rabin Square, the scene of some of Israel’s biggest mass demonstrations. The facade of City Hall was bathed in light, by turns showing the Star of David and the colors of the rainbow.

As many as 60,000 people, according to local media reports, filled the plaza below, chanting “Homophobia is terror,” “Shame, shame” and “The people demand legislative justice.” Many held printed placards that said “We are family,” while others had made their own — like one saying, “Maybe the day will come when we’ll all be equal.”

Netanyahu also came under attack Sunday over other legislation enacted last week, just before the Knesset, or Parliament, broke for its summer recess.

These measures included laws granting Jews the exclusive right to national self-determination and downgrading the status of the Arabic language, restricting access to Israel’s Supreme Court for Palestinians living on the West Bank and allowing some advocacy groups to be barred from speaking in public schools.

“It was another thing, and then another straw, and that was it — I couldn’t take it any longer,” said Zohar Lobel, 44, who came to the protests with her three children, ages 8 to 13, and her parents, Yonatan and Malka Lerner. “I believe in democracy and equal rights. And when I hear an outcry, I raise my voice as well.”

Eran Hagai-Neuberg, 42, attended with his husband, Nir, and their two sets of twin 6-year-olds who were born to two different surrogate mothers in India. “We came to support others who also want to be able to establish a family, but can’t because a religious minister tells us that we’re not allowed to,” he said.

Ido Greenberg, 35, who has an Instagram account with 57,000 followers and a 4-month-old T-shirt company that prints modern political slogans in a biblical Hebrew font, said he wanted to get across to his audience “just how important human rights and civil rights are.”

“Today, it’s me but tomorrow it’s you,” he said, wearing one of his shirts, which said, in Hebrew, “It’s only the heart that decides what makes a family.”

“Our voice has been trampled and silenced,” Greenberg said. “It’s crazy that someone else can decide whom I can love and what constitutes a family.”