Likud’s Amir Ohana becomes Israel’s first openly gay Knesset speaker

The Knesset elected Likud MK Amir Ohana as its speaker on Thursday, shortly before a confidence vote to inaugurate Israel’s 37th government. A former minister in previous governments, Ohana is the first openly gay person in the Knesset to hold the position.

“I pledge to do everything possible to be worthy of the trust you place in me,” he told fellow Knesset members.

The result of the floor vote was 63-5, with all lawmakers in the coalition voting in favour, except MK Yaakov Tesler of United Torah Judaism, who was abroad.

Ohana’s selection was clinched on Wednesday, when members of the Likud faction chose him in an internal vote to succeed Yariv Levin, who served in an interim role for two weeks.

Levin, a former Knesset speaker and a trusted ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, took office to oversee a three-part legislative campaign that preceded the swearing-in and vacated the post on Thursday to become justice minister.

Get the daily edition of The Times of Israel

by email and never miss our best stories

By signing up, you agree to the terms

Occupying one of the most strategic positions in the Knesset, the speaker wields considerable influence over the legislative agenda and pace, as well as leading legislative sessions and maintaining decorum in the plenary.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (left) is sworn in as prime minister as Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (right) looks on on Dec. 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ohana previously served as justice minister and public security minister, and his promotion to the previous role in 2019 made him Israel’s first openly gay minister.

Considered a Netanyahu loyalist, Ohana was among the top voters in Likud’s internal primaries ahead of the Nov. 1 election, positioning him for an important post in the incoming coalition.

In his first remarks after being elected speaker, Ohana thanked Netanyahu for his “courage and confidence” in advancing his candidacy, saying he and the Likud leader have “come a long way together” and “with the help of God, they will carry on.” .”

New Knesset Speaker-elect Amir Ohana prepares to take office immediately after being elected by his fellow Knesset MPs, in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

He thanked his parents, who were in the gallery, for accepting him “just the way I am.” And he thanked his partner, Alon Haddad, “the second half of my life for almost 18 years,” who was in the gallery with the couple’s children, Ella and David, whom Ohana also mentioned.

Ohana promised that the incoming coalition would not infringe on LGBTG rights.

“This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, will not hurt them or any other family, period,” he said in remarks to his family.

Alon Haddad, partner of new Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and his children listen to Ohana’s speech from the Knesset gallery, December 29, 2022 (Knesset Channel screenshot)

Several of Likud’s ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners have expressed homophobic positions, including returning the now-banned conversion therapy, changing government forms to say “mother” and “father” instead of the neutral “father” as soon as to gender, and running on the platform of a “normal family,” like the outspokenly anti-LGBTQ Noam party.

Noam’s sole MK, incoming deputy minister Avi Maoz, looked the other way as Ohama delivered his keynote address, as did members of the United Torah Judaism party, Israel News Channel 12 reported.

United Torah Judaism MPs Yitzhak Goldknopf and Meir Porush, minister and deputy minister, respectively, in the new government, look away as Amir Ohana MK, who is gay, delivers his first speech as a Knesset speaker, May 29. December 2022 (Screenshot of images by Ari Kelman, BeHadrei Hadarim, broadcast on Channel 12; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Act)

Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that he will not allow any infringement of LGBTQ rights despite signing coalition agreements to the contrary.

Before the vote for president, Maoz claimed that recent reports of the listing of gay media professionals and his party’s “leftist” Justice Ministry staff were nothing more than an attempt by the media to “smear” him. , demonize and shame him”.

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth published the lists drawn up as an internal document by his party in 2019 last week, prompting widespread condemnation.

Maoz, who will serve as deputy minister in charge of “Jewish identity” in the next government, claimed that he has nothing against individual LGBTQ people and was only acting against “LGBTQ-ism as an agenda and as a political movement.” . as well as against leftist ideology rather than individual leftists.

That is why, he said, he would vote for Ohana’s appointment as speaker of the Knesset.

Maoz said that the media “deliberately and maliciously try to portray me as someone who fights against certain individuals. As if the Stalinist cleanups were about to begin, or at least the McCarthyite persecution. Of course, the reality is quite the opposite.

The lists “are merely lecture materials collected from news websites to show the influence on various public systems,” he added.

Noam party leader Avi Maoz speaks at the plenary session of the Knesset on December 29, 2022, ahead of the swearing in of the new government. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Despite voting for Ohana as a speaker, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party expressed reservations in light of the Likud MK’s sexual orientation.

“We are not happy with the path he is taking, but we are looking at the person and not at his tendencies,” MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, who is a minister in the Ministry of Social Welfare in the new government, told the Ynet news site.

Ben-Tzur also denied that there were any changes to LGBTQ rights.

“We believe that we are a democratic country and there are disagreements. There will be no extremism anywhere here,” he added.

Thursday’s election of a new Knesset speaker and the government’s swearing in followed weeks of negotiations between Netanyahu’s Likud and its far-right and Haredi coalition partners, which required a vote on a series of contentious laws before they could be passed. agreements will be signed.

In addition to changing anti-discrimination laws to allow providers of goods and services to refuse service based on religious beliefs, the coalition agreements include a commitment to pass a controversial High Court set aside law designed to reduce judicial controls over executive and legislative power, and a declarative, if anything vague commitment to annex the West Bank to Israel.

In addition, the far-right party Otzma Yehudit has reached an agreement to separate the Border Police from the Israel Police and place the force under the direct control of the new national security minister, MK Itamar Ben Gvir.