TEL AVIV – Tens of thousands of demonstrators from Israel’s LGBT community and their supporters gathered at a main Tel Aviv plaza on Sunday for the culmination of a day-long strike in protest at the exclusion of gay men from new surrogacy legislation.
Earlier, demonstrators blocked the Ayalon freeway, a main route through Tel Aviv, and held other protests in Israeli cities, including a rally near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.
“We came here today to say to the government ‘No more’, we want equality and we want equal rights for everyone,” said Oz Dani, 43, an insurance company worker who said he and his partner had to travel abroad for expensive surrogacy.
“We are a gay couple, just married, and we have been trying to have a baby outside of Israel but it costs a lot of money. Almost a million Shekels ($276,000), money we don’t have.”
Single women and women unable to become pregnant for medical reasons were given the right to apply for state support for surrogacy under the amendment passed by the Israeli parliament last week and supported by Netanyahu.
But Netanyahu backed off an additional amendment, drafted by a member of his Likud party, that would have granted the same right to single fathers and, by extension, gay couples.
The distinction drawn by the premier, whose coalition includes conservative Jewish parties, touched a nerve in Israel, which does not conduct same-sex marriages but recognises such unions if they are performed abroad.
“Netanyahu’s a homophobe, we’ve come out to the street,” chanted protesters opposite his Jerusalem home. “There is no equality, there’s discrimination, we will topple the government.”
Netanyahu said that, had he supported the fathers’ amendment, the entire bill would have been blocked in parliament, denying single women surrogacy rights.
He had pledged to back a future bill focusing on fathers’ surrogacy rights.
The protests have drawn expressions of support from the country’s main Histadrut trade federation and several dozen Israeli companies, some of which said employees would be granted time off to participate in the strike.