“Israel is the most gay-friendly place…I visited the gay beach, cruising areas and such like.”
Israel is home to the “gay capital of the Middle East” according to Out Magazine.
The country is located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and shares boarders with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The country is home to anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people, as well as the right for transgender people to legally change their gender.
And yet, it is a country suffering an image crisis. In its ongoing feud with Palestine, Israel is often characterised as the wealthy, arrogant and insidious aggressor, deaf and blind to the plight of the poorer, bealeagred Palastinians and shored up like a schoolyard bully by its the backing of its friend, the US.
Just last month, the President of the United States made a historical political decision by announcing his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; effectively recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump’s typically contrarian posturing caused a worldwide uproar and revealed the diplomatic dyspraxia still surrounding the region.
Tensions have existed between the Israelis and Palestinians for decades, despite attempts to appease them with the intervention of the United Nations, in the first instance, and the more recent implementation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
So, given that many LGBT+ people may be considering Israel as their next holiday destination, OutNews Global found out what it’s like to be openly-LGBT+ in Israel.
Tiago, a 22 year old university student from Canada, spent the summer of last year studying in Jerusalem. He spent time in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, noting a marked difference between the two cities.
“When I was in Tel Aviv, the environment was very modern, contemporary and liberal,” he recalled. “Everyone was all about partying and life revolving around which club everyone was going to each night.”
Tiago then travelled just over an hour to Jerusalem, where he describes a “totally different world.”
He said he found Jerusalem to be “very conservative, dominated by religious interests and competing ethnic tensions.”
As a queer man, did how did he feel in Israel? “Being queer in Israel and Palestine is no different than being queer in most functioning societies.” That being said, Tiago remarked Jerusalem as being a “don’t ask, don’t tell kind of city” and stated that he did not see any “openly gay couples” when he visited Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel.
Norman Goldner, who is 66 and lives in London, has been visiting Israel since 1970 and often goes to visit his sister.
“Israel is the most gay-friendly place,” said Norman. “Even in the seventies, everything was good.”
“I visited the gay beach, cruising areas and such like.”
Does Norman think his sexuality is accepted by others in Israel? “Even amongst the most orthodox of my friends, they accept me for who I am.”
Given the recent clashes, how did they feel about safety during their trips? “People are always concerned about violence when travelling,” said Tiago. “But there are, statistically speaking, far more dangerous activities we take on and consistently underestimate.”
Norman also seemed nonchalant about safety, saying he “never felt particularly concerned” when he visits Israel. Despite having narrowly missed a bombing in Jerusalem, Norman felt that this experience abroad was “no different” to being in London during IRA attacks.
Currently the Foreign Office do not have any advice against travelling to Tel Aviv or Israel, but they do acknowledge the potential for a “quickly deteriorating” security situation around the Old City and Jerusalem.
Tel Aviv Pride is scheduled to go ahead in June, whilst unrest between Israel and Palestine continues to dominate the Middle East’s political agenda.