Having announced that Caitlyn Jenner is one of the main honorees at our March 8 Gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York City celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday, I was inundated with criticism for giving a “Champion of Israel and Human Rights Award” to the world’s most famous transgender woman. As fortune would have it, at the very same time, Caitlyn was herself in Ireland, a country increasingly hostile to Israel, speaking publicly and proudly of the Jewish state.
“I really judge a people and a country by the way they treat the LGBT community, I just have to say Ireland has done such a good job when it comes to these issues... There’s other countries around the world, in fact I’ll be in Israel, who have done a wonderful job in the face of civil rights.” Caitlyn went on to say that if you’re LGBT in countries that are not like Israel, “they’ll hang you; it’s an amazing thing.”
For her courage and incredible friendship to the Jewish people and Israel, and her preparedness to speak out from Hollywood, where even the Jews are almost completely silent on Israel, we will proudly proceed with a speech by Caitlyn on March 8 highlighting the State of Israel as one of the world’s great bastions of human rights and a country that protects LGBT citizens from the certain murder and brutality they would experience if they set one foot outside of Israel in the north, east, or south.
Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.
I understand that some members of faith communities have objections to the LGBT lifestyle. I recognize that some of my religious colleagues are uncomfortable with the gay rights movement. More than a few of my fellow Orthodox Jews have written to me about their disappointment. Seriously? You object to our simple message that every human being – regardless of religion, race, or creed – deserves to be protected and deserves to be treated like a child of God? What Bible were you reading?
Is there someone out there with a kippa, tzitzit and a beard who, if they saw a transgender man or woman brutally murdered in Tehran and hanging from a crane in a city square, wouldn’t see that as abomination and an affront to the living God?
While we can have religious debates on homosexuality and transgender, there should absolutely no human rights debate whatsoever on LGBT individuals being protected by law from any and all kind of danger. God created human beings in his image. And Israel protects all of God’s children, which is why I am so proud of the Jewish state.
As an Orthodox Jew and a rabbi, I respect and live by Jewish law. I also believe that the highest Jewish value is the infinite worth of every human life, regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. One does not have to endorse a lifestyle, or have it accord with one’s religious principles, to believe that every human life is sacred and must be protected. The Jewish people, more than any other nation on earth, have always championed the infinite value of life. Israel’s enemies, by contrast, endorse a cult of death in which teenagers who blow up buses are lionized as martyrs and heroes.
Don’t preach to me that we should be like them.
The focus of our organization is to defend human rights, disseminate universal Jewish values and highlight Israel’s role as a light unto the nations. Choosing to honor Caitlyn is consistent with our mission. She is an icon in the LGBT community and beyond for her public support of human rights and a strong supporter of the Jewish people and State of Israel. We look forward to what is sure to be an outstanding speech by one of the world’s most recognizable faces about Israel as a light unto the nations.
There is more.
A new Pew survey indicated the percentage of liberal Jews supporting Israel over the Palestinians has declined dramatically, from 33% in 2016 to 19% in 2017. On campuses around the country we have seen this trend reflected by students who define themselves as “progressives” identifying increasingly with the Palestinians and critics of Israel. Minority groups, such as Black Lives Matter and LGBT advocates, have likewise turned on Israel. In this atmosphere it is more important than ever to stand by and honor people from those communities who are willing to speak the truth and support Israel.
Caitlyn and other members of the LGBT community – whatever people’s religious objections – are also a persecuted minority. They are targeted by many of the same extremists that target Jews, though mostly from those on the Right. When I was recently in Europe visiting former concentration camps, I also saw exhibits about the mistreatment of homosexuals. While Jews were forced to wear badges with yellow Stars of David, gays were assigned pink triangles. Echoing his sentiments on Jews, SS head Heinrich Himmler said of gays, “It is vital we rid ourselves of them; like weeds we must pull them up, throw them on the fire and burn them. This is not out of a spirit of vengeance, but of necessity; these creatures must be exterminated.”
The Nazis ultimately did not seek to exterminate homosexuals as they did the Jews. Nevertheless, they killed as many as 15,000, while others were brutally treated by camp guards and other inmates.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 25 transgender Americans were murdered in 2017. And that’s in the United States. According to the FBI, 18% of hate crimes in 2016 were motivated by sexual orientation. That’s an increase of 2% over 2015. Crimes against transgender Americans increased nearly 43%.
In all these areas, Israel stands out as a country, situated in the cesspit of Middle East human rights abuses, that treats all LGBT citizens as people and as children of God, protecting them from persecution and harm. This is a fact that must be made known on all of America’s campuses, even as the Israel haters despise the Jewish state so much that they accuse us of “pinkwashing.” They prefer to overlook how Hamas slaughters gays on false charges of collaboration, just to attack the Jewish state. That’s how blind their hatred is.
Caitlyn has bravely spoken out against the bigotry directed toward the gay community. She has also stood up to antisemites in the LGBT community who object to her or anyone else expressing admiration for Israel and its promotion of human rights. Since the announcement of our award they have already accused Caitlyn of “pinkwashing” Israel, which they assert is an effort to divert attention from Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. But she has refused to stand down. These people hate Israel so much they cannot bear to hear that LGBT individuals and organizations are protected by law in the Jewish state, and they care so little about Palestinians that they are willing to ignore their persecution of gays.
Caitlyn is standing with Israel because she knows that she can safely walk the streets of Israel. She can visit Tel Aviv, voted in an international survey as one of the safest cities in the world for LGBT citizens, and know that she is protected by Israel’s laws barring discrimination based on gender orientation.
She may not know that some of the soldiers protecting her as well, as other visitors and citizens, could also be transgender. In 1993, Israel became one of the first countries to protect the rights of transgender soldiers, providing them with the constitutional right to serve. And I absolutely endorse any Jewish soldier who wants to fight to ensure that there will never be a second Holocaust. Today, Israel is one of only 19 nations whose armies allow transgender individuals to serve.
Caitlyn does know how dangerous it would be for her to cross into the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank or Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. As in other Islamic societies, Palestinians do not approve of the gay lifestyle and LGBT individuals from Palestinian-controlled areas are persecuted and many have fled to Israel for safety.
The situation is worse in neighboring states. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, the UAE and Iraq are among the 13 countries that can impose the death penalty for “same-sex sexual acts.” Other Muslim countries provide for penalties of up to 10 years for homosexuality or “debauchery.” Among the horrors we have witnessed and documented are Islamic State extremists throwing a gay man off the roof of a building and a man being lashed and imprisoned for using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. Islamic countries went so far as to bar gay and transgender organizations from attending an international meeting on combating AIDS.
Israel is a Jewish state. It is a light unto the nations. It lives by the Torah, the guiding star of the Jewish people, the highest principle of which is, whether or not you agree with someone, their life is of infinite value, endowed with infinite dignity, and it must be protected.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 31 books including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. For tickets to The Champions of Jewish Values Awards Gala on 8 March, go to www.thisworldgala.com.