The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, will be the keynote speaker at the International Equality Dinner this Saturday. Israel is the featured nation at the 20th anniversary of the Equality Forum, the major LGBT civil rights summit in the country that is being held in Philadelphia from May 3-6. Oren, a New Jersey native, is planning to reaffirm Israel’s commitment to gay rights during his speech.
What is the status of gay rights in Israel?
Israel has always had a commitment to gay rights. The Israeli Declaration of Independence guaranteed equality for everyone irrespective of sex. We have made a lot of progress, but we want to continue to advance. In the Middle East, we are in a tough neighborhood for gay rights.
Can you give us a sneak preview of your speech?
I plan to list many examples of Israel’s progressiveness towards gays. Two examples are: The Palestinian LGBT groups can’t operate in the Palestinian territories so Israel provides them shelter. My ministry, the foreign ministry, provides equal treatment for spouses of gay employees. I am not sure any other country does that.
What do you say to those that criticize Israel being featured at the Equality Forum?
Israel was fighting for gay rights before the 1967 war. Even when terrorists were blowing up our buses and cafes, there was equality for gays.
What are your impressions of Philadelphia?
In Jerusalem, I live right near Liberty Bell Park, which has a replica of the Liberty Bell. So seeing the Liberty Bell will make feel like I am home. I spent my honeymoon in Philadelphia. I got married while I was serving in Beirut so my wife and I did not have a honeymoon. When I arrived in Princeton to continue my studies, I took my wife to Philadelphia for a honeymoon. I like Philadelphia. I am an oarsman, so I have rowed on the Schuylkill River. I love the art. I am a big fan of Thomas Eakins.
What is the biggest misconception about Israel?
One of the biggest misconceptions about Israel is that it is a nation of conflict. It is a nation of creativity, innovation, and technological advances. Israel has always been a liberal democracy. There has never been a time of non-Democratic rule.
How do you feel about President Obama?
Obama is a friend of Israel.
How do you feel about the recent criticism of Israel’s aggressive stance towards Iran from retired intelligence and government figures?
We are an open society. They are entitled to their opinions. But the democratically elected government has the responsibility to defend Israel. Obama has recognized Israel’s sovereignty.