TEL AVIV, Israel — Tel Aviv's gay pride parade, in its 14th year, is such an established tradition that diplomatic delegations send representatives as if the pageant were its own nation: A multi-colored, laughing enclave within the greater, beachside city. An alternate Vatican.
Israeli soldiers marched alongside Arabs from Jaffa and Nazareth on Friday. Politicians of all stripes, right to left — from former Kadima Party leader Tsippi Livni to Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich — gave speeches to the cheerful crowd of over 30,000 people. Religious political parties, extreme right-wing parties and Arab parties were conspicuous by their absence.
Homosexuals have always been drafted into the Israeli army, and to the surprise of many conservative American tourists to the Holy Land, neither gay rights nor abortion are sources of contention or controversy in Israel, where the overriding urgency of the country's geo-political problems rules the debate.
The issue of gay rights has on occasion raised hackles in meetings between Americans and Israelis, most notably before the State Department revised its policy on same sex partners of American diplomats.
On one occasion, a number of years ago, the Israeli army officer assigned to coordinate security arrangements in the West Bank with an American diplomat burst out in frustration, blurting, "Who are you to come and tell us how we should do things? You think you know everything? You're the one who comes from a country that prevents you from living openly with your boyfriend!"
Both, as it happened, were gay.
Hats off to Israel!