Flirting With Israel
BY Matthew Breen
August 13 2010 4:00 AM ET
The rest of the country is significantly less gay than Tel Aviv. Jerusalem has no dedicated gay bar, only a few small club nights; Eilat on the Red Sea is a popular beach resort city, but gay tourists meet one another just fine on the beach or in any of the boardwalk bars. But the general attitude among Israelis, and even the Palestinians I met—granted, a smaller sampling—is a big “so what!” Palestinian men casually throw their arms around each other’s shoulders, sit close, and don’t fear eye contact the way American men do. Israel has Nitzan Horowitz, it’s first elected gay parliamentarian. The country—culturally Jewish but predominantly secular—has little time or energy for homophobia. Many secular Israelis save their derision for Hamas and Orthodox Jews (they receive government financial aid and are exempt from compulsory military service). Even the Orthodox have backed off their gay-pride protests, since it seems to crack open their cloistered life when children ask what “gay” is, forcing their parents to explain something they’d rather not.
I did get a glimpse of the disdain Israel occasionally feels for its critics. I was in Jerusalem during the Gaza flotilla raid in May, in which Israeli commandos boarded ships headed for Gaza with supplies and eight people were killed, prompting an international crisis that dominated the news. I witnessed the world almost uniformly condemn Israel, led, it seemed, by European nations; a common Israeli response to the European scorn was roughly, “Fuck you! You don’t know what it’s like here.” Despite the international political heat, I never once felt unsafe in Israel’s tightly secured cities.
Maybe I was feeling especially buoyed by some beach time or inspired by a sense of Israeli openness. Whatever the reason, on the long flight home I had trouble sleeping and did something I’d never done before. I walked to the galley and began a chaste flirtation with a flight attendant. Israel had been flirting with me, and I felt like responding in kind.