By Rachel Savage
LONDON, April 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Israeli LGBT+ activists criticised Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to take action on behalf of their community despite the prime minister saying he supported gay and transgender rights in his first meeting with advocates after 10 years in power.
Netanyahu expressed "sympathy" for LGBT+ concerns, but blamed a lack of action on having to form coalition governments with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, activists who attended the gathering told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
The meeting on Sunday took place two days before elections that could see Netanyahu's right-wing bloc lose power, as the four-term prime minister faces possible indictment in three corruption cases. He denies any wrongdoing.
"He didn't say anything new," said Tamar Yahel, the head of Hoshen, an LGBT+ education group. "He said a lot of empty sentences."
Israel is one of a handful of Middle Eastern countries - along with Jordan and Bahrain - that allow same-sex relations, in a region where several states impose the death penalty.
However, gay marriage is still illegal in the country of 9 million, although weddings performed abroad are recognised. Homophobia and transphobia are also rife in a state where many religious communities remain deeply conservative.
The advocates said their primary concerns are anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.
Netanyahu, who leads the Likud party, declined to commit to making support for LGBT+ rights a condition for entering a coalition, according to the activists, who met with several other party leaders in the run-up to the elections.
The prime minister "failed almost every law that came to the Knesset (Israel's parliament) that was supposed to help... the LGBT community," said Ohad Hizki, the head of the Aguda - the Israeli National LGBT Task Force.
"You can't say that you are willing to help us, but then you don't do anything that supports your promises," he said.
"On one hand we cherish this opportunity and we think it's very important that the prime minister wants to meet us," Hizki added.
"But on the other hand we understand that it's two days before the election and he wants half a million votes that are a part of the LGBT community."
Hizki classified four parties as "really pro-LGBT rights" - Blue and White, Labour, Kulanu and Meretz. These and two other parties mentioned LGBT+ rights in their manifestos, according to the Aguda's website. Likud did not publish a manifesto, it said.
The prime minister's office referred requests for comment to Likud. Likud was not available for comment. (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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