The gay ac­tivists who plan more than just club nights

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY MICHAL LEVERTOV

SATUR­DAY NIGHT, and the cream of the Tel Aviv coolerati have turned out for gay nightlife en­tre­pre­neur Ha­gai Ayad’s birth­day party at his Roof 46 venue, atop one of Roth­schild Av­enue’s classi­est Eclec­tic build­ings.

But Ayad, a baby-faced 37-year-old, has am­bi­tions be­yond this boom­ing gay party scene.

He is the founder of the Gay Party of Is­rael, the coun­try’s first-ever such po­lit­i­cal group­ing, which he plans to have con­test­ing seats at both lo­cal and na­tional level at the next elec­tions.

The rea­sons for this un­usual en­deav­our are clear, he says, loung­ing on one of the rooftop venue’s al fresco so­fas. The Tel Aviv gay scene is boom­ing, both so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally.

“Young Is­raeli gays come here in great num­bers,” he ex­plains.

“And straight en­trepreneurs are widely in­vest­ing in the gay club­bing in­dus­try,” in­ter­jects his busi­ness part­ner, Ilana Shi­razi. “So much so that fi­nan­cially it’s not a pink econ­omy any more.”

Le­gal and so­cial at­ti­tudes, Ayad con­tin­ues, have also hugely pro­gressed ever since 1988, when sodomy ceased to be il­le­gal. To­day, Is­raeli law for­bids anti-gay dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“But there’s a se­ri­ous, scary, set­back,” he warns. Last spring, a gov­ern­men­tal cam­paign for in­ter­na­tional gay tourism was bashed by right-wing politi­cians for be­ing “dis­gust­ing” and “hurt­ing Zion’s sanc­tity”. Threats of anti-gay vi­o­lence have ac­com­pa­nied a vi­cious strug­gle over Jerusalem’s Gay Pa­rade in the past two years.

The ten­sion is ap­par­ently not con­fined to the cap­i­tal. A knife-hold­ing youth slashed the arm of a friend of Ayad’s last month, for kiss­ing a man near a Tel Aviv gay club. And re­cently a same-sex cou­ple, he re­lates, was warned off from buy­ing a flat in the chi-chi north­ern neigh­bour­hood of Ra­mat Aviv with the ex­pla­na­tion: “There are young kids in the build­ing.”

Nearby on the rooftop venue, Dina Abe­cas­sis, a se­nior Meretz ac­tivist and an­other gay Roof 46 par­ty­goer, doubts if good in­ten­tions can re­place the po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of­fered by pro­fi­cient po­lit­i­cal bod­ies.

Uzi Even, the first openly gay MK, was a Meretz rep­re­sen­ta­tive, she points out, as are Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s gay coun­cil mem­bers.

“Sec­to­rial par­ties are very trendy to­day,” she sug­gests, “but they al­ways end up as flops.”

She has a point. Last year, the newly formed Pen­sion­ers’ Party won a frankly as­ton­ish­ing eight seats, largely due to mas­sive protest vot­ing. But hav­ing failed to de­liver on their man­i­festo, they are now em­broiled in a se­ries of un­pleas­ant par­lia­men­tary scan­dals.

If Ayad wants his party to be out and proud, in ev­ery pos­si­ble sense, he will have to make sure that it has a wider hu­man-rights agenda, rather than just trendy nov­elty value.

Oth­er­wise, he is likely to join the long ranks of for­mer new, fresh and promis­ing par­ties which even­tu­ally fail to sur­vive on the po­lit­i­cal map and man­age only to em­bar­rass their elec­torate. Kadima, any­one?

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