Israel’s openly gay deputy foreign minister this week dismissed the idea that his country’s government promotes LGBTQ rights in order to divert attention away from its policies towards the Palestinians.
“I would never, ever, put myself in a position that I would be the face of ‘pinkwashing’ as part of my role because I’m confident that there’s no such thing in Israel,” Idan Roll told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an interview at the Riggs Hotel in downtown D.C.
Roll, 37, spoke with the Blade at the end of a 4-day trip to D.C., which took place less than six months after eight political parties formed a coalition government that ousted long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Knesset earlier this month passed Israel’s first national budget in three years. Roll, who is the youngest person in the Israeli government, noted to the Blade it earmarks $30 million (NIS 90 million) to LGBTQ organizations across the country.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in August announced Israel had lifted restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The Israeli Supreme Court in July ruled same-sex couples and single men must be allowed to have a child via surrogate.
A group of teenagers on Nov. 12 attacked a group of LGBTQ young people near Jerusalem’s main bus station as they were traveling to a transgender rights conference in Tel Aviv. Neil Patrick Harris is among the actors who expressed their support for the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival amid calls from BDS (boycott, economic divestment and sanctions) Movement supporters to boycott it over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
Roll acknowledged Israel does not extend civil marriage to same-sex couples, but he also pointed out to the Blade the country does not “have civil marriage for straight people either” because marriage in the Jewish state is a religious institution. Roll noted he is among the openly LGBTQ people in the Israeli government and they “live a full, fulfilling life.”
“Are we perfect?” he asked rhetorically. “No. Are we one of the best places for gay people to live in the world? Definitely so, and I feel safe. And I feel welcomed. And I feel empowered and I feel like the best of it is ahead.”
Roll told the Blade the idea of “pinkwashing” comes from the fact “that not everyone is as informed as others about life in Israel.”
“That’s something that’s a task this new government and our ministry has, to better convey the Israeli story, and it’s a wonderful and complex and diverse story,” he said.
Roll also stressed he “would love for people to stop pinning one thing against the other.”
“Us doing tremendous work for LGBTQ equality does not get eliminated or erased or cancelled just because we have to also manage a very intricate conflict, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “Promoting progressive values is still something that is worth mentioning, and we are working towards bettering the lives of the Palestinians on a humanitarian and economic level. Things are not as black and white as they are portrayed.”
Roll lives in Tel Aviv with his husband, Harel Skaat, an Israeli pop star who he married in Utah in March, and their two children who they had via surrogates in the U.S.
The lawyer and former model who is a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party founded Pride Front, a group that encourages LGBTQ Israelis to become involved with the country’s political process. Roll told the Blade he decided to run for office after he and his husband started their family.
“It was quite a struggle,” he said, noting their second child was born via surrogate in Oklahoma. “And then it struck me that I have to practice what I preach. I have to not only just encourage others to take political action and move forward, but also I had to take the lead.”
Roll in 2019 won a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid appointed Roll as deputy foreign minister after the new government took office.
“I’m a very young member of this government … and I am an openly gay member of this government,” said Roll. “I am very grateful of the life that I have been able to create for myself in Israel.”
“That’s a story that I feel like I can portray very authentically and I think that’s a story that needs to be told outside of Israel,” he added. “I’m also very proud to be part of the new face of a new government that is doing things differently and in a way I think now allows people of all different ethnicities and colors and agendas to find someone they can relate to in this government.”
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and other members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus are among those who met with Roll when he was in D.C. Roll also sat down with Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee members and Jewish students at George Washington University.
“We have a new government, and the new government is really different in many great ways,” Roll told the Blade. “It’s the most diverse government in our history and in a way it is the most diverse reflection of a very diverse society.”
He said one of the reasons he traveled to D.C. was “to reach out and to open a dialogue.” Roll also stressed Israel “has always been a bipartisan issue.
“It’s crucial to keep it that way and we intend to do that,” he said. “The U.S. is the most cherished and important ally we have and you need to cultivate relationships.”