A West Village Mural Weighs Gay Rights in the Middle East

Even before the new mural at 111 Leroy Street in the West Village was completed, the mud was flying. On Queerty.com, an online magazine that covers gay issues, the mural was characterized as “heavy-handed” and worse. “Completely pointless and in poor taste,” one commenter declared.

Others counter-attacked, saying the mural was “celebrating a safe haven for LGBT individuals in Israel versus the surrounding region.”

Finished on Friday in time for the anniversary of the day that Israel declared independence Monday, the mural dominates a wall in a parking lot at the corner of Greenwich and Hudson Streets, an industrialized block close to the Hudson River piers, where gay men traditionally gather to socialize.

The mural shows the outlines of two men holding hands below the headline: Who Would YOU want at Your Wedding? The male figures also hold up two balancing scales that offer a stark contrast between the state of gay rights in Israel and in some of its Arabic neighbors.

Above one scale, the text notes that Israel lets same-sex couples adopt children, that “gay people serve openly in the military and government” there and that more than 10,000 people celebrated at Tel Aviv’s 2011 Pride Parade.

On the other scale, labeled “Israel’s neighbors,” the text says that homosexuality is illegal in Syria and punishable by death in Iran. “There is no pride parade in Egypt, Jordan or Gaza,” the mural reads.

The mural was commissioned by the Alumni Community of Birthright Israel, an organization that has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews from America and elsewhere to Israel in the last 12 years to strengthen their bonds to that nation.

The group’s executive director, Rebecca Sugar, said the mural grew out of conversations with returning alumni who were offended by how “Israel is often attacked and maligned for things that aren’t true.”

“There is only one country in the Middle East where you can live freely, as you are,” she said. “The surrounding countries who accuse Israel of prejudice and bias are prejudiced and biased.”

Artists 4 Israel collaborated on the design of the mural, which was executed by a former graffiti artist, Chris St. John (also known as Cycle).

Craig Dershowitz, founder of Artists 4 Israel, brushed off the online charges of “pinkwashing,” a term coined by members of the gay-rights movement to describe what they viewed as public-relations tactics to mask Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human rights by promoting the country’s progressive gay-rights agenda.

“We’re doing this to promote dialogue,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

Karen Gelfand, senior press officer for the Consulate General of Israel, said that all of the statements in the mural regarding gay rights in Israel were accurate. Israel does not allow same-sex marriage, but it recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad.

But Adem Carroll, a member of the steering committee of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition for Truth and Justice, called the mural “blatantly divisive, opposing Israel against its neighbors in the region.”

“Is Arab-bashing really a constructive approach to human rights protection?” Mr. Carroll asked. “Is this very negative messaging an encouragement to Arab nations to implement broader rights protections, or will it have a more negative backlash effect?”

The mural is expected to remain “until defaced,” according to a news release from Birthright Israel.

On Wednesday, the mural appeared in pristine condition. A 65-year-old woman getting into her car, who gave only her first name, Mona, called it “a great idea. It makes a statement.” A Jewish printer who works in the neighborhood, Andy Hort, said it offered “a positive spin on Israel” but seemed “self-serving.”

A courier, Israel Vazquez, stopped to read after he saw his first name on the wall. Although he said he was confused as to whether the mural was for or against gay rights, he was sure of one thing: “It’s the hot topic these days.”

Especially after President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage, Mr. Vazquez said, “Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.”

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