University News

Pop icon speaks about gay Israeli experience

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Correction appended.

“When I’m performing, I love to see a gay couple, next to a straight couple, next to a religious couple — all experiencing the same energy,” Ivri Lider told an audience of about 100 Israelis, students and community members at Brown/RISD Hillel last night.

The gay pop star, one of the most popular musicians in Israel, told The Herald that he does not consider himself an “official gay activist.” Rather, when people from different backgrounds listen to his music and “experience (their) emotions in those lyrics, that’s my activism,” he said.

Lider spoke about becoming famous and coming out publicly after the release of his second album. He also sang three songs in Hebrew and English.

Lider stressed that “Israel is a very liberal country” and the leader of gay rights in the Middle East. Only religious marriage ceremonies can be performed in Israel. But gay couples who are married abroad are granted a marriage certificate, which gives them the same rights and benefits as a heterosexual married couples. Gay Israelis serve in the military and adopt the biological children of their partners. Lider said that he had no trouble getting an extended visa for his American boyfriend.

When asked about coming out, Lider said he “was the first major pop artist to do something like that in Israel “and that his record label was “scared shitless.” His fans were “very lovely, very accepting,” he said.

Lider told The Herald that people were often surprised that Israel is “different to what they see in the news” and that he is happy to have “opened people’s eyes.” Israel stands in contrast to the Palestinian territories, he said, where gay Palestinians are in an “impossible situation” because they will be persecuted at home and can be jailed as illegal residents in Israel.

But there are also fervent opponents to gay rights within Israel, mostly from the ultra-religious community, Lider said. Ultra-orthodox Jews often object to his performances.

He performs in Jerusalem at least once a month and described the city as “interesting and a little scary,” he said. He has spoken with a support group for gay, religious Jews in Jerusalem and a friend made him a “pride yarmulke.”

He said he hopes his music forms part of “a world that erases a little bit of boundaries between people and between countries,” though he does not consider his work to be “obvious political writing.”

Lider drew comparisons between the gay experience in Israel and America, describing his home city of Tel Aviv as “pretty gay,” on par with New York City or San Francisco. Israel is so small that the culture of acceptance prevalent in Tel Aviv has permeated the rural areas, he said. He contrasted this with the isolation of a gay teenager in Omaha or Iowa.

Lider said Israel’s small size and support groups explain why there are few incidences of gay teen suicide, adding that recent suicides of LGBTQ American youth are “mind-blowing.”

An earlier version of this article gave an inaccurate estimate for the size of the audience. The Herald regrets the error.