The canary in the coal mine

Gay rights, I’ve always said, is the often ill-fated canary that tests the human rights atmosphere. In Israel this past week, the bird hasn’t been feeling too well. It seems that while Jews and Muslims can’t agree on who should run Jeruslam, they can at least agree on who to run out of town first: the queers.

It also seems to me that the claim to secular democracy by the Knesset is in doubt as a bill introduced by one of the mishugina parties to ban Gay Pride, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Israel, is getting cross-party support. Journalist Doug Ireland reports on this sorry state of affairs on his blog.

Prime Minister Olmert – who has a lesbian daughter – has said that while he does not personally think that Jeruslam is an appropriate venue for gay pride, he does not think that there are grounds for legal restrictions.

This is slightly encouraging, but the level of support the bills have in the Knesset might render the PM’s personal opinion irrelevant. This will mark a disturbing slide towards theocracy as right-wing religious parties erode democratic values. If you think this ‘coal mine canary’ analogy is a little hysterical, then consider that Israeli president-elect Shimon Peres actively courted the religious-right vote and issued his own statement opposing gay pride in Jeruslam, but he did so from the home of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, the sponsor of the bill banning Pride marches nationwide. Haretz reported a deal in which Perez would oppose gay rights in exchange for ultra-Orthodox support for his presidential bid.

Only the left-wing Meretz party bloc is vigorously oppposing the bill’s passage.

In the meantime, the police have given Jerusalem Pride the go-ahead. Tel Aviv Pride – which now attracts thousands – went ahead on June 8 without incident – but it too will be under threat if this bill passes.

But if the bill passes, it will signal much more than gay rights under threat.