On March 22, UEA JSoc are hosting Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig, who will be talking about LGBTQ+ struggles in the Middle East. Though its defenders like to claim that Israel is the safest place in the Middle East for LGBTQ+ rights, there is no legal provision for same-sex marriage or even civil partnerships.
The reason for this can be found at the heart of Israeli politics: ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have outside influence on the political process, due to the nation-wide system of proportional representation. They often end up as the kingmakers in coalition negotiations, with much larger parties being reliant on their support to form a government. This results in them being able to put conditions on coalition agreements, for example insisting that public transportation be suspended on the Jewish Sabbath, and that marriages be performed by an orthodox Rabbi which precludes same-sex marriages.
In banning same-sex relationships, ultra-Orthodox Jews cite a verse from the Torah (Jewish bible). This verse, Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:22, is commonly translated as “Man shall not lie with man as he shall with a woman: this is an abomination”. However, other explanations have been posited, as Mazzig will explain in his talk. There is an etymological oddity in the Hebrew used in the Torah: there are two different words for man – ‘ish’ and ‘zachar’. Whilst they could both mean ‘man’, it is possible to translate ‘ish’ as man and ‘zachar’ as male. This is significant because in Ancient Greece, the law at the time stated that only those who were of the age to vote, own land, and marry could be called ‘men’ and those who were too young would be referred to as ‘male’. Reading the verse through this lens, it is possible that it is not referring to same-sex relations, but instead to the common Greek practice of pederasty, a relationship that was between an older man and a younger boy.
The majority of Israeli society does not support the ultra-Orthodox interpretation of this verse. Only last month the UK Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a series of tweets condemning the visit of ultra-Orthodox Israeli MK (Member of Knesset) Bezalel Smotrich, who has repeatedly made homophobic comments. Smotrich is typical of the ultra-Orthodox politicians who are trying to uphold a system of Orthodox hegemony and a theocratic state similar to Iran, a system to which the majority of Israeli and Diaspora Jews are fundamentally opposed. It is this personal and political struggle which Hen Mazzig will discuss, in his discussion of his own experiences as a gay man, assisting Palestinians as an IDF soldier.
The great Rabbi Hillel was once asked to teach the entire Torah whilst standing on one leg. He answered by saying “love your neighbour as you would yourself, the rest is commentary”, the position of our JSoc towards the LGBTQ+ community. As our JSoc welcomes Hen Mazzig onto campus, this is something of which we should all be mindful.
Full details of the event, which is open to everyone, can be found on the SU website.