In the midst of Israel’s Pride Month, NIF conducted an interview with Or Keshet, a 38-year-old lawyer who for the past three years has served as Director of Government Relations for The Aguda — Israel’s LGBT Task Force, an organization funded by the NIF global network. He currently lives in Herzliya with his partner Adam and their two children Adi and Aviv.
How would you sum up the past year’s work with the Israeli government?
“So far, this government, which called itself ‘the government of change’ has unfortunately created fewer opportunities than we would have liked to promote specific legislation on LGBTQ issues. However, there have been several exciting opportunities that have opened up in government ministries. For example, the Ministry of Welfare has significantly increased its budget for at-risk members of the LGBTQ community, which has had a number of positive results, including an increase in the number of positions for LGBTQ social workers in local authorities.
“The Ministry for Social Equality also launched a breakthrough initiative to increase its budget for LGBTQ centers. A total of 73 local authorities throughout Israel have joined this initiative! They have established the physical infrastructure for the project, and have begun to hire salaried LGBTQ coordinators.
“Just this year, the Ministry of Health published a memorandum from the Director General prohibiting conversion therapy, set up a special committee to improve gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people, and swiftly implemented the Supreme Court’s ruling that all LGBTQ parents must have equal rights to surrogacy. These are just a few examples of the strides we’ve taken this year.
“Continual dialogue with these ministries and others has opened up numerous possibilities for resources and positive change for the LGBTQ community in Israel. But the most valuable thing that these collaborations need to be successful is simply more time, and time is an elusive resource in the Israeli political sphere.
“It is worth remembering that not all members of the coalition are committed to LGBTQ rights, and there are serious pockets of resistance. Still, even given its distinct shortcomings, in my view, this has probably been the most pro-LGBTQ government that has ever served in Israel.”
What is the next stage of the LGBTQ campaign?
“After 20 years of organizing, much of which was characterized by political protest and legal action, the LGBTQ community has begun to ‘institutionalize’ and to learn how to work efficiently with partners at the political and professional level to promote its aims.
“In my opinion, there are two important indications of this trend. First, until the year 2000, there were no collaborations between LGBTQ organizations and the government. Indeed, any attempt to move in that direction was generally perceived as delusional. In 2015 there was just one such collaboration. Today there are seven LGBTQ organizations providing a range of services to the community based on legal and budgeted connections with government ministries. We are talking about tens of millions of shekels that are invested annually to provide individual advice and treatment, educational workshops in the school system, youth groups, anonymous support hotlines for the LGBTQ communities in Orthodox and Arab society, and more.
“Second, until 2016, the combined annual budget of all government ministries for the LGBTQ community came to a total around NIS 2 million. Today, the Ministry of Welfare alone budgets programs to the tune of more than NIS 20 million annually, and the Ministry of Social Equality budgets an additional NIS 30 million annually as part of the coalition agreement. That’s astonishing.
“The institutionalization stage is in full swing right now, and its continuation depends, among other things, on realizing and acting on political opportunities. At the same time, we are seeing the first steps towards change in various conservative communities in Israel, in particular, in Orthodox and Arab society. This is a long and complicated process and we are only at the very beginning.”