Opinion | Amir Ohana Is Gay and Right-Wing. How Far Can He Go in Israel?


At a Tel Aviv bar called Evita he met a man named Alon, a stockbroker. They’ve been together for 14 years — without getting married, because the state doesn’t recognize gay marriages performed in Israel, and there’s no civil marriage at all. They have two children, David and Elah, born in 2015 to a surrogate mother in Klamath Falls, Ore., because surrogacy is not legal for gay men here.

In the fall of 2011, Mr. Ohana convened 20 friends in his living room. He’d met some of them on Facebook — that was the year that social media helped drive Arab revolutions, social-justice protests in Israel and Occupy Wall Street in the United States. The mood was one of empowerment. (The same wave in Israel would propel two young leaders from the leftist protests into the Labor benches, where they now serve as Mr. Ohana’s opponents.)

All those present at the meeting were openly gay and right-wing. Until then, L.G.B.T. issues had been a sole concern of the left, and Mr. Ohana and his comrades, later known as the Likud Pride group, saw no reason for this to continue. The Israeli right isn’t the American right; here right-wing mainly means a tough stance on the conflict with the Arab world, and the rest is flexible. Or, as Mr. Ohana has said before entering the Knesset in 2015, “Being attracted to men doesn’t mean you have to believe in creating a Palestinian state.”

The Likud-led coalition included ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who oppose L.G.B.T. rights, and they absented themselves when their new colleague took the podium. Mr. Ohana introduced himself as the son of “Esther and Meir who came from Morocco to build a state,” and the “other half” of Alon, who was in the audience with their two infants. “I’m Jewish, Israeli, Mizrahi, gay, a Likudnik, a security hawk, a liberal and a believer in the free market,” Mr. Ohana told parliament. (“Mizrahi,” or “eastern,” refers to Israelis with roots in the Islamic world, about half of the Jewish population.)

Mr. Ohana quickly positioned himself on the Likud’s right flank, an opponent of compromise on all issues of national security and identity. Success as a newcomer depends on Mr. Netanyahu’s grace, and Mr. Ohana has appeared frequently on TV to defend the prime minister from corruption charges with the cool skill of a criminal lawyer. Like Mr. Netanyahu, he’s willing to see the justice system — for which he just became responsible — not as a moral force but as a competing interest group. He recently criticized its “Sicilian mafia tactics.”

Mr. Netanyahu appointed him to head the committee in charge of passing the controversial nation-state law, which led to one of the biggest political fights in recent years. The law, passed in 2018, enshrined Israel’s Jewish character in law for the first time. The center-left opposition denounced it for undermining the status of minorities, downgrading the status of Arabic and displaying dangerous signs of ethnic chauvinism. Whatever the law’s effects on our society, as politics it was effective, rallying patriotic sentiment around the right while making the left seem naïve or treacherous — the classic Netanyahu maneuver.

When I asked Mr. Ohana how, as a member of a persecuted minority himself, he could back this law, he replied that it merely states what most Israelis believe: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Others are free to live here with full civil rights, but not the right to alter the state’s character as a refuge and home for Jews. “Whoever opposes the law simply isn’t a Zionist,” he said.


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