Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do.
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)
Last week the Ambassador of Sweden to the State of Israel, H.E. Carl Magnus Nesser, hosted an interesting and highly unusual panel at his Herzliya residence. The panel participants consisted of representatives of seven different Israeli organizations dealing with various issues of concern to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) communities here, while the invited guests were representatives of 12 different embassies, including Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Slovenia, Denmark (represented by the Ambassador himself, H.E. Jesper Vahr who honored us with his presence), Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Norway, Romania and the Netherlands. Also present was the Deputy Head of the Swedish Mission, Ms. Alexandra Rydmark, and several interns from the mission as well.
The lgbt panel included participants from the Aguda – the roof organization of the lgbt community, celebrating 40 years of service this year; Hoshen – an educational group with outreach to Israeli society in general; IGY – Israeli gay youth; Ma'avarim – focused on the transgender community; the Gila Project – somewhat similar to Ma'avarim, but with a different outreach; TEHILA – a self-help organization for parents and families of lgbt people; and HOD – a support group for observant lgbt Jews. Invited by unable to attend at the last minute was a representative from Beit Dror – a temporary retreat, supported by the municipality of Tel Aviv, for homeless lgbt youth.
Ambassador Nesser opened the meeting with a brief address, welcoming the panel and the guests. He explained Swedish human rights policy, mentioning that although homosexuality was decriminalized in Sweden way back in 1944, the lgbt community there still suffers some measures of non-official discrimination. He added that Sweden's human rights activities embrace all minorities whose rights are endangered or not yet fully secured.
Each panel participants then had an opportunity to explain the focus of their group's activities. Oded Frid, the Executive Director of the Aguda was asked to speak first and gave a brief overview of the 40 years of the roof organization. He also reminded the guests that although only 7 groups were represented, Israel has a flourishing lgbt community with outreach to a wide segment of varying sub groups. It was obvious from the rapt attention of the guests that the explanations of the speakers opened new windows of understanding – and appreciation – of what members of the lgbt community have been through, are going through, and where they want to be. The universal thread was that in Israel of 2015, partial legal acceptance of the community is not enough. Societal anti-gay discrimination is a blight on all human rights. The message was: "Society must go beyond mere acceptance; we are part of the fabric of society and we are not going away. Get used to it."
Ambassador Nesser ably facilitated the introductions and then invited questions from the audience to the panelists. Time was limited but a free exchange of ideas ensured that the messages from both sides were clear and definitive.
A substantial refreshment buffet afterwards afforded to panelists and the guests the opportunity to mingle and mix, to discuss, share views and ask more questions.
Sweden's ambassador has joined USA ambassador, H.E. Daniel B. Shapiro, in fore fronting diplomatic efforts in Israel to reduce anti-lgbt discrimination here, and worldwide. We hope that other ambassadors will take up the challenge to abolish the human rights inequalities – of all human rights – here and in their home countries.
Photo provided by the Swedish Embassy