Homosexual relations were legalised in the state of Israel in 1988, and during the 1990s various forms of discrimination were prohibited. Debate has since centred on recognition of same-sex partnerships and the rights they confer, including inheritance, residency, and the adoption of children. The staging of LGBT pride parades has been controversial in some cases.
In 1858, the Ottoman Empire ruled the area of modern-day Israel and Palestine as part of Ottoman Syria. It abolished its existing sodomy laws in its Penal Code (Article 198) so long as it was consensual and the consenting partner was above the age of consent.
Beginning in 1882, Ashkenazi Jewish migrants from the Russian Empire fled to Ottoman Palestine in a series of waves to escape rising anti-Semitism, encouraged by Perez Smolenskin's suggestion that Jews make aliyah to Israel in large movements. Smolenskin's urging of European Jews could be seen as a precursor to Theodor Herzl's Zionism. It is not known if the growth in nuance for homosexuality began with any of the early Russian settlers, as the territory from which they had migrated had largely been populated with homophobic cultural traits; however, as Jewish Russians were only recently beginning to integrate into mainstream Russian society away from the Pale of Settlement, views on homosexuality likely sharply differed between Jewish intellectuals and religious clerics when migrating to, and establishing the agricultural settlements in the area.
The British Mandate of Palestine was given to Britain in 1923 after the disbandment of the Ottoman Empire following the events of WWI. Now governing a new territory, the British took some interest in the population of Palestine. In terms of sexuality and sexual rights, British involvement began in terms of questionnaires which would question the Palestinian population about their sexual practices and what they considered both unnatural and immoral. It was revealed that in Palestine there existed many ways of “unnatural” sexual expression including sodomy between school boys and acts of lesbian love which were blamed on influences from nearby countries such as Syria and Egypt. Though these acts were not considered horrible to Palestine, they were considered unnatural and immoral to their British colonizers. Thus, throughout British rule of the mandate, Britain would slowly incorporate their homophobic policies into the lives of the Palestinian population. Until 1948, when the British Mandate would be partitioned to give land to the Jewish people, British leaders would encourage the criminalization and punishment of sexual acts that they determined were either unnatural, immoral, or both. Before the intervention of Britain and in the beginning of their intervention, the Palestinian population knew that acts of homosexuality in regards to both genders existed in their society. They deemed these acts as unnatural to the norm but not as immoral to way of life. After British intervention, the population would begin to criminalize these acts and this criminalization would last into the development of the Israeli State in 1948.
The newly formed government of Israel continued in British tradition with enforcing their laws regarding the criminalization of homosexual relationships as well as other acts that the government deemed immoral or unnatural which included acts of gender fluidity. In the 1950s, an Israeli woman by the name of Rina Natan was arrested for cross dressing, this entailed that she was wearing female clothes while being of biological male gender. The arrest was made on terms of her breaking public order. Later, the government had concluded that they could not charge her for wearing women’s clothing and ultimately released her. After her arrest, she became very vocal in Israel’s political sphere in regards to gender and transgender rights, even becoming known as Israel’s first transgender rights activist. Specifically, she was protesting the Israeli government’s policies and laws that denied her rights to treatment and denied her the appropriate resources to transition between the male to female gender. Denying her specifically on her gender reassignment surgery was Attorney General Haim Cohn who in 1954 was persistent in making sure that Natan would not receive her surgery. Following this, two short years later, Natan severed the penis that she was born with herself. After this, Israeli hospitals were forced to treat her and Rina Natan became Israel’s first transgender woman. After her transition, Rina Natan was a woman by gender and in society but the Israeli government never changed the name and gender on her passport, which remained under her birth given male name. Natan would pave the way for gender and transgender rights in Israel. She gave transgender rights a sphere of influence in activism and her actions and story would lead the Israeli government to legally recognize and permit sex reassignment later in 1986.
In 1963, Justice Cohn denounced sodomy laws, stating that they were outdated and that consensual sexual acts were neither criminal nor morally wrong. By denouncing these policies, Justice Cohn discouraged authorities from enforcing them.
In 1968, Tel Aviv's first gay bar was opened by Amir Sharon in a private apartment. After this, gay clubs pop up around Israeli metropolitan areas and a secret club gains infamy. (See London Ministores Mall).
In 1975, Israel's first organization to protect LGBT rights is established. (See The Aguda – Israel's LGBT Task Force). Alizada, coming from the Hebrew "happy" (aliz) becomes the first LGBT pride march in Israel on September 17, 1977.
Shulamit Aloni starts bringing attention to LGBT rights in Israeli law in the beginning of the 1980s. In 1988, under Amendment 22 of Israeli Penal Law, same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults were decriminalized. The 1980s also brought employment discrimination protections to lesbian and gay Israelis.
On January 10, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that a lesbian couple is able to legally adopt each other's children. During the past 15 years that Tal and Avital Jarus-Hakak have lived together, they have had a total of three children. In November 2005, a groundbreaking court decision in Israel ruled that a lesbian spouse could officially adopt a child born to her current partner by artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor; this ruling came despite protests by the minority Orthodox Jewish parliamentary parties.
Following the supreme court ruling, a lesbian couple was allowed to adopt each other's biological children on February 12, 2006. Before that, gay partners of parents were granted guardianship over their partner's children.
On March 10, 2009, the Tel Aviv family court ruled that former Knesset member Uzi Even and his partner, Amit Kama, can legally adopt their 30-year-old foster son, Yossi, making them the first same-sex male couple in Israel whose right of adoption has been legally acknowledged.
On January 29, 2007, following a Supreme Court ruling ordering them to do so, Jerusalem registered its first gay couple, Avi and Binyamin Rose.
On 30 June 2005, the fourth annual Pride march of Jerusalem took place. It had originally been prohibited by a municipal ban which was cancelled by the court. Many of the religious leaders of Jerusalem's Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities had arrived to a rare consensus asking the municipal government to cancel the permit of the paraders. During the parade, a Haredi Jewish man, Yishai Schlissel, attacked three people with a kitchen knife and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime.
Another parade, this time billed as an international event, was scheduled to take place in the summer of 2005, but was postponed to 2006 due to the stress on police forces during the summer of Israel's unilateral disengagement plan. In 2006, it was again postponed due to the Israel-Hezbollah war. It was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on 10 November 2006, and caused a wave of protests by Haredi Jews around central Israel; the ugliest incident took place during the 2006 Jerusalem gay pride parade.
The Israel National Police had filed a petition to cancel the parade due to foreseen strong opposition. Later, an agreement was reached to convert the parade into an assembly inside the Hebrew University stadium in Jerusalem. 21 June 2007, the Jerusalem Open House organization succeeded in staging a parade in central Jerusalem after police allocated thousands of personnel to secure the general area. The rally planned afterwards was cancelled due to an unrelated national fire brigade strike which prevented proper permits from being issued.
In 2008 the City of Tel Aviv opened the Municipal LGBT Community Center, the first of its kind in the country.
In August 2009, an armed attacker shot dead two people and injured 15 more in an attack on a lesbian and gay centre in Tel Aviv. The incident has been deplored by many organizations and government officials, such as the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President Shimon Peres.
In July 2015, Yishai Schlissel, an Orthodox Jew released from prison after spending 10 years in jail for stabbing participants in a 2005 LGBT pride event in Jerusalem, attacked six marchers with a knife. One of the victims, a teenage girl named Shira Banki, died of her wounds. A central square in Jerusalem is to be renamed "Tolerance Square" in memory of Banki.