November 11, 2019

Star Wars: David Strikes Back

Let’s be serious: No participant in a Dyke March feels “threatened” when a Star of David appears on a rainbow flag. Not unless he or she is told they are supposed to feel threatened. Not unless he or she is told to pretend that the star is the equivalent of a swastika or a Ku Klux Klan sign, a symbol of death and terror. 

Let’s get serious. We want to be serious. And yet, here we are again trying to make sense of the nonsense, trying to persuade the unpersuadable, trying to converse with those who have ears but hear not. At times it appears that controversies such as the D.C. Dyke March Star of David Pride flag controversy are no more than a cunning attempts to dumb down Jews by forcing them to counter ridiculous arguments and juvenile provocations. Let smart and savvy Jews waste time on explaining why marching with a Star of David Pride flag is a legitimate practice. If they have a good argument, we can always move to ban blue shirts or white blouses, or decorative fringes, lest anyone feel threatened by their suggestive meaning. 

Interestingly, Israelis this week also were faced with the legitimacy of gay symbols. In Israel’s case, the symbol is a man: Amir Ohana. Last week, Ohana became the first openly gay minister in Israel’s history. Ohana has a spouse and children and a political career. For at least a few short months, he will be the minister of justice. A cause for celebration? Eh … well. … There is this small issue of him being a member of the Likud party, and of a right-religious coalition. Ohana, some Israelis argue, is a pinkwashing machine. Behind him lurk the ugly policies of ultra-Orthodox bigots, of annexation supporters, of anti-gay activists. 

Some people will never be happy. Not even when a right-wing prime minister — Benjamin Netanyahu — appoints a gay minister to make a point. What was the point? Israel is a liberal country that won’t be subjected to rigid halachic rules. Thus, the appointment of Ohana came a day or two after an Orthodox contender for the job declared that his aim is to promote ancient Hebrew law as the law of the land. Netanyahu used Ohana as an effective response. More a pink paint-balling than a pink-washing.

Netanyahu made this move because of the challenge posed by his most threatening new nemesis, former minister Avigdor Lieberman. In case you missed the previous chapters: Lieberman was the man standing between Netanyahu and another term as prime minister. His explanation (some say reason, some say excuse) for doing this was straight forward: The Likud-led coalition caves to ultra-Orthodox demands and forgets about the majority of Israelis who aren’t religiously practicing. This was an effective attack because Lieberman had the power to sabotage one coalition, but also because it can be used to strengthen Lieberman and make it possible for him to sabotage another coalition. 

Ohana is Netanyahu’s “Exhibit A” that Likud won’t accept an ultra-Orthodox dictate. In the coming months, depending on what the polls say about the state of the campaign, we can expect more such exhibits. To win the next election, the prime minister needs a right-wing bloc of 61 plus seats without Lieberman. One poll, from last week’s Maariv Daily Newspaper, made it seem possible. Other polls are less definitive. If Lieberman gains more seats because of his position, say seven or nine, Netanyahu must compensate for these gains by having a bloc of 70 seats or so. This means that every vote counts. This means that small parties that cannot cross the threshold won’t do. 

Netanyahu is under no illusion that radical gays will suddenly vote Likud because of the appointment of Ohana. In Israel, many gay leaders and organizations also eye a gay political conservative with great suspicion. Ohana is gay but he supports robust security measures. He is gay but wants to curb the power of the supreme court. He is gay but doesn’t believe in a Palestinian state. He is a gay man who raises an Israeli flag, a Star of David, proudly, fearlessly, unapologetically. Maybe this is not just a message to Israelis about the possible compatibility of being gay and being hawkish. Maybe this is also a message to non-Israeli gays who pretend to feel “threatened” by a Star of David on a rainbow flag. The message is: Booo!

Editor’s note: A handful of marchers were allowed to carry Pride flags featuring the Star of David at the D.C. Dyke March on June 7.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.