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date: 25 February 2021

Israel’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groupslocked

  • Gilly HartalGilly HartalThe Gender Studies Program, Bar-Ilan University

Summary

The decriminalization of sodomy in Israel in 1988 transformed the political opportunity structure and heralded the local gay legal revolution that manifested in legal amendments, social movements, and the emergence of a flourishing, normative LGBT culture. Most activities were based in Tel Aviv with additional, scattered movements in other major Israeli cities. Since 1988, ongoing legal and political work have been taking place, with emphasis on a politics of assimilation.

The Israeli LGBT social movements fit into a general trend of NGO-ization, by which organizations provide social services and endorse a national identity as a part of neoliberal governmentality. Palestinian movements and pro-BDS activists, however, do not participate in this co-option and assimilation process, resulting in deep segmentation of LGBT politics. Through this process, some LGBT social movements participate in and benefit from institutionalized encouragement and approval, while others protest state agenda and politics and work independently, exposing the central role homonationalism plays for Israeli LGBT movements and interest groups.

Israeli homonationalism was induced through a continuous process of mainstreaming that was intensified by violent incidents that had major consequences for LGBT social movements in Israel. This violence broadened the scope of social movements’ activism and influenced public opinion on LGBT issues as well as politicians’ public support of LGBTs. As a result of these incidents, relationships between state authorities, municipalities, community activism, and LGBT social movements in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have changed dramatically. LGBT social movements in Tel Aviv used the municipal administration and urban space to transform the cultural and symbolic value of LGBT subjectivity, culture, and discourse, securing their dominance within the local arena. This local power, as revealed in the case of gay tourism to Tel Aviv, reshaped the capacity to negotiate with the government, creating an additional lobby for LGBT resources.

Two currents dominating LGBT discourses have considerably influenced Israeli LGBT social movements’ goals, agendas, practices, achievements, and networks: NGO-ization and homonationalism. Specifically, their interlacing with Israeli neoliberalism influenced LGBT movements’ power to motivate change. The analysis of Israeli LGBT social movements traces major milestones, from the early stages in the 1980s to the 21st-century period of homonationalism, but it also challenges homonationalism as an invariable situation. Rather, new challenges galvanize new politics and power structures for LGBT social movements and for their endorsement by municipalities and the national government. The neoliberal perspective reveals that LGBT social movements keep on working, growing, and becoming more institutionalized and normalized. This, however, does not reflect greater power by LGBT social movements but rather the privatization of the state, enabling LGBT social movements to step into niches once under the government’s exclusive responsibility. Therefore, in the 21st century, the value and valuation of LGBT subjects is established not so much by social movements’ work but via economic and urban power, reflecting a “post-homonationalist” mode.

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