More than 1,000 LGBT+ rights supporters blocked the main Tel Aviv highway on Thursday night to express alarm at possible measures against the community by Binyamin Netanyahu’s new Israeli government.
The protest came just hours after the government was sworn in. Among measures agreed to by its right-wing and religious parties is the planned amendment of anti-discrimination legislation to allow religious doctors and business owners to refuse service to members of the LGBT+ community if it contravenes their religious beliefs.
The protesters chanted “we are here and everywhere” and “Iran is here” as they brought traffic to a standstill in the city known as Israel’s gay capital.
Hila Peer, chairwoman of LGBT Equality in Israel, said: “This morning, the sun rose and not long after a great darkness fell over Israel. This is a new moral low for our country.”
The protesters were particularly angry over a report that Noam, an avowed homophobic party that has a single seat in the new coalition, had compiled a blacklist of gay public figures and civil servants.
Mr Netanyahu has promised that there will be no discrimination against the LGBT+ community and, partly in response to a public backlash, appointed Amir Ohana from his own right-wing Likud party as the Knesset parliament’s first openly gay speaker.
“This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, won’t hurt them or any other family, period,” Mr Ohana said in comments directed toward his family, sitting in the public gallery.
But two ultra-Orthodox parliamentarians buried their heads when he pointed to his life partner and two children.
World leaders have congratulated Mr Netanyahu on forming his sixth government. They included US president Joe Biden, who said he looked forward to working with Mr Netanyahu to advance peace and combat the threats from Iran.
“The United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values,” Mr Biden said, in a hint that support from Washington for the incoming government will not be automatic.
The Palestinian Authority called for an international boycott of Israel’s new government over its hardline, right-wing agenda.
“The state of Palestine rejects the annexationist, violent, racist, and incitement to ethnic cleansing policy guidelines of Israel’s new government. We consider this agenda an existential threat to the Palestinian people and their inalienable and inviolable rights,” said a statement released by the Palestinian foreign ministry.
One of the most controversial appointments in the new government is ultra nationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party, to the position of national security minister with control of the police.
Mr Ben-Gvir says he plans to continue visiting the flashpoint Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s old city, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif noble sanctuary, as he often did before he became a minister.
Jordan’s King Abdullah warned Israel earlier this week not to cross Jordan’s “red lines” with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites.