The gay activists who plan more than just club nights
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?