He’s 43 years old, a decade-long member of the Tel Aviv City Council, and responsible for all LGBTQ issues in the Tel Aviv Municipality, including the organization and oversight of the much-anticipated Tel Aviv Pride Parade (and surrounding events). Just before the White City turns pink, we sat down to talk with the man who gives Tel Aviv its pride.
How did Tel Aviv become such a popular gay attraction?
Tel Aviv is a very easy city to tag as a “Gay City.” It has everything: a great gay community, spectacular nightlife, mouthwatering food, beautiful beaches, and amazing weather. But it’s more than that. We make visitors feel at home, and it’s even more true with the gays. We hug them, we are excited about them, they genuinely have a good time here. Tel Aviv is not another destination to tick off their checklist, they are really having the time of their lives here. Many gay tourists come here because they feel there is something revolutionary about Tel Aviv. They understand that we are a beacon of light in the middle of the Middle East.
Do you think tourists really care about that?
Definitely. Pride parades all around the world are labeled as parties and sex, and the gay community all over the world is trying to figure out what’s next. We don’t want Tel Aviv to be another stop when hopping from parade to parade, so we make a point to tell people that by coming here, they are helping a sane voice in the Middle East be heard.
So what can you tell us about this year's Pride theme?
This year, we decided to shine the spotlight on the older community. It's important to show our respect to those women and men who paved the way so that we can now walk the streets of Tel Aviv with our rainbow flags waving proudly. What better way to celebrate than to honor the history and heritage of the gay community in Israel? This year marks twenty years since the first municipal parade in Tel Aviv, so we are all very excited.
How do you spread the word?
Since day one, our strongest voice has been the members of the community. It doesn’t matter how much money we spend on an advertising campaign, at the end of the day, we live in a world of social media and influencers.
They are the best marketing people in the world. When a gay guy talks to someone on Grindr, he becomes Israel’s best ambassador. And the best thing is that the tourists themselves become our ambassadors; people who come to Israel for the first time are so surprised that they immediately share how wonderful Israel is.
What do you think sets Tel Aviv's Pride Week apart from the rest of the world's?
Every pride parade that takes place in Israel – in the heart of the Middle East – is already so unique to the region. The parade is a source of openness and hope for the entire region. Also, in comparison to the rest of the world, the Tel Aviv parade is a source of attraction because of its unique atmosphere and the manner in which the whole community comes together to march through the streets of Tel Aviv and along its many beaches.
There are hardly any places specifically for gays in Tel Aviv. Are we really that friendly?
Yes. Tel Aviv is completely pink. A gay tourist feels at home here everywhere he goes. And it’s not only here. Dating apps and social media have replaced physical encounters, and so the need for specific places for gays to meet is almost gone. The culture is changing and every place can be a gay place. We see it during Pride Week. Many places hang the Pride flag, does it mean it’s a gay place? No, but they are telling people, “Go ahead and feel at home.” And that is the future.
A Tale of Two Cities
In 2015, Shira Banky, a 16-year-old girl was murdered while marching in the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Has this terrible hate crime affected the way you conduct the events?
As a result of this crime, the Jerusalem parade in 2016 was the biggest ever. Buses filled with people from all over the country came to Jerusalem, and it actually made me realize that it was time for a collaboration between the parades in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
It's about time!
Exactly. I’m working on an idea to connect the events with the theme: “We march in Jerusalem, we celebrate in Tel Aviv.” Since last year, we have come a long way with The Jerusalem Open House [for Pride and Tolerance] in preparing a partnership model. The Tel Aviv parade can never be a protest parade. The amount of people, trucks, parties and events leaves no room for protest. In Jerusalem, there are no trucks, no parties, it’s a real protest march. Combining the two under one umbrella seems like the right thing to do. It’s 1+1=3. It’s super cool to party and dance shirtless on a truck as a celebration of freedom and pride, but we mustn’t forget that there are things we are not done fighting for. I believe that we will finally see these two cities united for Pride by this time next year.