Tens of thousands demonstrated in Israel on Sunday against a law that denies access to surrogacy to gay male couples.
Up to 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to demand the inclusion of same-sex couples in a new law that made state supported surrogacy legal for unmarried women.
The Aguda – the Israeli National LGBT Task Force – said that the protest was “the largest LGBT demonstration in the history of our country.” There were other significant rallies in cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Karmiel. Many members of the LGBTQ community also participated in a nationwide strike.
Around 200 companies showed their support for the protests by announcing that they would allow their employees to stay away from work to take part in the demonstrations, which at one point shut down a major highway in Tel Aviv. Sunday is the first day of the working week in Israel.
The LGBT community is in particular furious with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who went against his word and voted against the proposed clause in the law that would have also allowed surrogacy for single fathers, and by extension male same-sex couples.
The surrogacy law was passed in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, last week. Previously, only married heterosexual couples were allowed to request state supported surrogacy to have a child. Without this support, high costs make surrogacy out of reach for most Israelis.
Netanyahu claimed he had no choice but to vote against the measure as the entire law would not have passed in parliament if the pro-gay clause had been included. He has been accused of pandering to Orthodox opponents of the proposal in his coalition government.
“Netanyahu has sold the most important thing in our society to an extremist minority in his government for extraneous political interests – the value of equality,” Zionist Union Knesset lawmaker Itzik Shmuli told the Tel Aviv demonstrators, reported i24news.
In a statement on Facebook, Aguda described the surrogacy law as “a huge step backwards” and called it a “deliberate, discriminatory act… to make it difficult for gay couples to become parents.”
It said that Sunday’s demonstrations also sought to highlight other issues that continue to hamper the LGBT community: “In Israel today, lesbian women cannot register their children to school, transgender people are stabbed on the streets, and LGBTQ teens are running into homophobia every day in school.
“We cannot sit quietly anymore and continue living life like this… We will not stop fighting until the government respects our basic rights and sees us as equal citizens of this country,” said the group.
Israel is known as the most LGBT-accepting country in the region, with anti-discrimination laws in place. Same-sex marriage and gay adoption, however, are not yet legal. The country has been accused by some activists of using and promoting its tolerance for the LGBT community as a means to obscure or “pinkwash” human rights violations against the Palestinian people.