An Israeli LGBT activist speaking at Northwestern Monday evening described his identity with a self-coined acronym: JIG, or Jewish Israeli Gay.
Imri Kalman, chairman of the ‘Aguda’ – the Israeli National LGBT Task Force – and a club party organizer, spoke on LGBT equality in Israel for Northwestern Israel week. He said what his three identities all have in common is being the minority.
“We are still not very welcome in our neighborhood,” Kalman said of the LGBT community. “We always remain a small minority that is fighting for the right just to be, to be in that area, in that neighborhood.”
While some parts of Israel are very gay-friendly, like Tel Aviv, many LGBT people face discrimination socially and legally, he said. The Hebrew word for “homo” is one example.
“It’s the most common curse in Israel,” he said. “You can hear it everywhere, all the time. Children use it like it’s the most basic curse.”
The only significant legislation for the LGBT community in Israel was the decriminalization of gay sex in 1988, he said. But the movement for more rights and recognition has brought together people of all identities.
“The LGBT community is really a microcosm of Israeli society,” he said.
In addition to the Israeli LGBT groups within the country, there are two similar Palestinian groups also in Israel. Kalman said their groups haven’t worked together yet because his group supports Zionism, but that he works with Palestinian asylum-seekers and would like to talk with the Palestinian groups.
Some organizations have used pink washing, or the presentation of Israel as gay-friendly to give the state a more positive image, Kalman said. But he said he has avoided press events and initiatives that use the LGBT community as good PR.
Kalman’s visit to Northwestern was paid for by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel nonprofit and advocacy organization that doesn’t necessarily agree with his views, he said.
“I’m very happy that I’m the one who’s chosen to do it because I know what I’m going to say,” Kalman said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m going to say exactly what’s going on in Israel.”
He said he hoped coming and speaking at Northwestern would bring more support to the Israeli LGBT community.
“You’re our big brother,” he said, “Because the Jewish community in America is the big brother of the Jewish state.”
“We really want your support. We really want your help.”
Kalman was the first speaker of the week for Israel Week, which continues with daily events related to Israel through Friday.