The Growing Political Influence of Israel’s LGBT Community

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. You can see the original post here.

A gay pride parade in Jerusalem sounds preposterous: the same city that is the capital to three world religions and a millennia-long touchstone of strife and violence. Even those who are aware of Tel Aviv’s internationally known gay culture, which attracted a record quarter-million marchers to its own pride parade in June, would scarcely consider venturing out in their colorful tanktops to march down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

And yet, this summer saw exactly that: a record twenty-five thousand Israelis of all stripes emerging onto the streets of the Holy City with rainbow flags and painted faces, marching proudly and resolutely for what was billed as the “Jerusalem March For Pride and Tolerance.” Coming one year after a stabbing attack that killed Shira Banki, a 16 year-old straight ally who marched in support of her LGBT friends before being murdered by a fanatic ultra-Orthodox Jew, it was a sobering yet empowering moment in a community where LGBT individuals have long scratched out an existence by keeping a low profile.

When Athletic Competition Collides With Hate

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. You can see the original post here.

It’s the video that has taken Israeli social media by storm.

Released by Al Jazeera last week, a media outlet widely associated with coverage highly critical of Israel, it shows a young Iranian wrestler preparing for a fight at the World Youth Championships in Hungary. The video description states the tournament’s stakes in no uncertain terms: “success in championships like these, for a rare and lucky few, is a stepping stone to becoming an Olympic winner.”

As the Iranian team coach approaches and discretely grabs Peyman Yarahmadi’s arm, he looks confused. “What are you putting on my hand?” Peyman asks. “The problem is if you wrestle against Israel, your name will be crossed out from the team forever,” the couch reminds him. “I am putting ice on your hand so we can forfeit due to medical injury.” The wrestler begs, as tears stream down his face, “Let me go on the mat! I’ll beat him if you let me!”

The clip ends amidst slow music, clearly designed to illustrate the heartbreaking tragedy of the situation. A chyron explains, “Iran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state. By common practice, Iranian athletes don’t compete against Israeli athletes.”