Etai Pinkas, the youngest City Councilman in Tel-Aviv, is the second openly gay politician in Israeli history. Formerly the head of Agudah, the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gendered association, Etai is currently trying to persuade the Israeli government to recognize gay marriages performed abroad. He recently spoke for Ameinu and Meretz USA at the East Village’s KGB Bar.
Etai Pinkas declined the podium and sat down with the crowd. “I prefer it informal,” he said. Dressed in a pull-over and jeans, he motioned to the crowd to pull their chairs forward and then asked, “Is this alright with you?” Like most Israelis, Etai is frank but soft-spoken.
Etai began at the beginning. He was born in Tel Aviv, and as a teenager became interested in politics but thought he would never have a future in it because he was gay. That was until university, when he started volunteering for the Agudah, Israel’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gendered (GLBT) association.
“I was elected to vice-chair and then chair,” he said. “Then I became fully involved in politics.”
In his capacity as GLBT rights activist, Etai was a driving force behind the newly opened government-funded GLBT center. Etai explained that it is one of the few government-funded GLBT centers in the world. Etai has also helped get protection and asylum for gay Palestinians fleeing the Palestinian police or their families.
Etai’s current campaign is to persuade the Israeli government to recognize gay marriages performed abroad. He recently got married in Canada to his boyfriend, Yoav. He explained that in some ways the fact that Israel does not allow civil marriage works in his favor.
“Many couples can’t get married in Israel,” Etai said, “a divorced woman and a Cohen, or just two people from different religious backgrounds. So they go to Cyprus or someplace, and return and demand the state recognize their marriage. “
Since the 1960’s, the Israeli Supreme Court has forced the state to recognize civil marriages performed in other countries.
Etai’s plan was to go to Canada and get the official marriage papers, come back and have the Supreme Court force the state to recognize his marriage, just as the Court has done for straight couples. His case is currently working towards the Supreme Court. “I am optimistic,” Etai says, “about the outcome.”
Someone asked Etai if he supports the “One-State” solution, that is, a plan that calls for a bi-national state for Jews and Arabs in all of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Etai called the plan “utopian”, but said in “maybe five decades” he could foresee a federated Middle East, along the lines of Switzerland, with the currently existing states all reduced to semi-autonomous Cantonments. “All these countries,” he said, “have a lot of interests in common”.