On March 8, the World Values Network will honor Caitlyn Jenner as a champion of Israel at our Sixth Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, honoring men and women who stand up for human rights, fight genocide, and promote human dignity.
As a Jew, I know what it is like to be threatened by extremists from the left and right. I know what it means to be persecuted for who I am and what I believe.
Last summer, I took my family to visit the places where the extermination of the Jews was planned and carried out. That was Europe 70 years ago, but today Jews are once again in danger in many of those same countries.
Even here in the United States, for all the talk of Islamophobia, Jews remain by far the most frequent target of religion-based hate crimes.
Caitlyn Jenner and other members of the LGBTQ community are also a persecuted minority. They are targeted by many of the same extremists.
When I was visiting concentration camps, I also saw exhibits about the mistreatment of homosexuals. While Jews were forced to wear badges with yellow Stars of David, gays were assigned pink triangles. Echoing his sentiments on Jews, SS head Heinrich Himmler said of gays, “It is vital we rid ourselves of them; like weeds we must pull them up, throw them on the fire and burn them. This is not out of a spirit of vengeance, but of necessity; these creatures must be exterminated.”
The Nazis ultimately did not seek to exterminate every homosexual as they did the Jews. Nevertheless, they killed as many as 15,000 while others were brutally treated by camp guards and other inmates.
Like Jews, today gays in America are threatened. According to the FBI, 18% of hate crimes in 2016 were motivated by sexual orientation. That was an increase of 2% over 2015. Crimes against transgender Americans increased nearly 43%. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 25 transgender Americans were murdered in 2017.
Caitlyn has bravely spoken out against the bigotry directed toward the gay community. She has also stood up to antisemites in the LGBTQ community who object to her or anyone else expressing admiration for Israel and its promotion of human rights.
They accuse supporters of Israel of “pinkwashing,” which they assert is an effort to divert attention from Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. These people hate Israel so much they cannot bear to hear that LGBTQ individuals and organizations are protected by law in the Jewish state, and they care so little about Palestinians that they are willing to ignore their persecution of gays.
Caitlyn is standing with Israel because she knows that she can safely walk the streets of Israel. She can visit Tel Aviv, voted in an international survey as the most gay-friendly city in the world, and know that she is protected by Israel’s laws barring discrimination based on gender orientation.
She may not know that some of the soldiers protecting her as well as other visitors and citizens could also be transgender. In 1993, Israel became one of the first countries to protect the rights of transgender soldiers, providing them with the constitutional right to serve. Today, Israel is one of only 19 nations whose armies allow transgender individuals to serve.
Caitlyn does know how dangerous it would be for her to cross into the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. As in other Islamic societies, Palestinians do not approve of the gay lifestyle, and LBGTQ individuals are persecuted. Many have fled to Israel for safety.
The situation is even worse in neighboring states. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, the UAE, and Iraq are among the 13 countries that can impose the death penalty for “same-sex sexual acts.” Other Muslim countries provide for penalties of up to ten years for homosexuality or “debauchery.” Among the horrors we have witnessed and documented are ISIS extremists throwing a gay man off the roof of a building, and a man being lashed and imprisoned for using Twitter to arrange dates with other men. Islamic countries went so far as to bar gay and transgender organizations from attending an international meeting on combating AIDS.
I understand that some members of faith communities have objections to the LBGTQ lifestyle. I recognize that some of my religious colleagues are uncomfortable with the gay rights movement. But there should absolutely no debate whatsoever on LGBTQ individuals being protected by law from any kind of danger. God created human beings in his image. And Israel protects all of God’s children, which is why I am so proud of the Jewish state.
As an Orthodox Jew and a rabbi, I respect and live by Jewish law. I also believe that the highest Jewish value is the infinite worth of every human life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. One does not have to endorse a lifestyle, or have it accord with one’s religious principles, to believe that every human life is sacred and must be protected.
The focus of our organization is to defend human rights, disseminate universal Jewish values, and highlight Israel’s role as a light unto the nations. Choosing to honor Caitlyn is consistent with our mission. She is an icon in the LGBTQ community and beyond for her public support of human rights and a strong supporter of the State of Israel. We are proud to have her at our gala and look forward to her remarks. I hope that you will join us on March 8.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including Kosher Sex and Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.