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Memo to Toronto Sun: Israel is Gay Capital of the Middle East

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It was surprising to see the following headline appear in the Toronto Sun recently, a tabloid newspaper which has consistently shown its stalwart support of the state of Israel: "Lesbian pair fear return to Israel" with the sub-head "Muslim couple says they'll be killed if deported" (March 18).

The unfortunate impression this headline may have left readers with is that Israel enforces capital punishment, condones extra-judicial killings, or, at the very least, discriminates against members of the LGBT community. In reality, only the inverse is true. The Sun's article reported that a lesbian couple claimed they would be "killed if turfed to Israel for being a same-sex Muslim couple."

According to the couple, same-sex relationships "are not permitted or accepted in all Arabic countries... which is forbidden back home." Of course, Israel is not an Arabic country and this couple only feared being targets of "honour killings," a barbaric practice which Israel not only condemns, but which is considered criminal under the rule of law. Israel takes every effort to protect those at risk from individuals who carry out these odious feudal practices.

Israel has arguably the most liberal record on gay rights in the world, certainly in the Mideast. It's progressive gay-friendly policies are a natural outgrowth of Israel's democratic value system and the Jewish state proudly adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which dictates that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," and all are "equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law."

Israeli law prohibits workplace and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, same-sex couples can adopt children, gays and lesbians openly serve in Israel's military, and Israeli law recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Just last year, Out Magazine named the Israeli city of Tel Aviv "the gay capital of the Middle East," a place where the pride flag flies high and where the colours of the rainbow adorn Israel's gay clubs, beaches, and cafes. Israel also has several pride parades each year where tens of thousands of people travel from around the world to partake in the festivities. The Israeli government even has its own gay tourism website which it wears like a badge of honour.

It's no wonder that LGBT Palestinian Arabs oftentimes relocate to Israel fleeing from threats of physical abuse, death, and familial disownment. Israel is a paragon for safeguarding LGBT rights in a world where it's still illegal to engage in same-sex conduct in 76 countries, and according to the UN, in at least five countries (Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen) the death penalty prevails.

This month, the Associated Press reported that 58 gay Iraqis (or those believed to be gay), were murdered in just the last six weeks. The victims appeared to have been bludgeoned to death with heavy cement blocks that smashed in their skulls. According to reports, 750 gay Iraqis have been killed because of their sexual orientation since 2006. According to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sad, gay Iraqis are a "lesion on the Muslim community."

In a majority of Middle Eastern countries, members of the LGBT community often live in the underground fearing state-sanctioned persecution. In some countries, the mere perception that you are gay makes you a fair target where perpetrators of violence are let off scot-free. In a region resistant to moderation and intolerant to LGBT communities, one can't forget Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ridiculous assertion or what some speculated was his wishful thinking that: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals."

The situation for the LGBT community in the broader Mideast, Arab world, and North Africa is especially dismal, with countries shirking their obligations to prevent violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But in Israel, the Jewish state is an oasis of tolerance and mutual respect. A proud and ardent protector of the LGBT community and a tireless advocate for their collective interests and individual rights.