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Gay Jewel of the Med

Gay Jewel of the Med

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  • IN TEL AVIV FOR THIS YEAR’S PRIDE JOHN HOWARD FINDS ISRAEL’S SECOND CITY AN OASIS OF TOLERANCE.

On the beach in front of the Hilton, packed with international gay men in, erm, form-fitting Andrew Christian and Addicted swimwear, they are talking about it.

In the cafés along the tree-shaded “Rambla” that is Rothschild Boulevard, they are talking about it over drinks.

And in jumping gay bars like Shpagat (Nahalat Binyamin St 43,) and even at the mega-warehouse party sponsored by fashion brand Diesel that followed Pride, perhaps the biggest collection of shirtless gay muscle boys ever assembled in captivity, they were talking about it.

Not so much maybe, what with the other distractions, but still talking about it.

The subject? How Israel is not only a tale of two cities – that would be Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – but a tale of two mind-sets.

For the last ten years or so, and following a campaign with quite a bit of welly behind it, gay men have been going to Tel Aviv to enjoy the weather, the food (globally famous and great for vegetarians), the architecture (the largest collection of Bauhaus modernist buildings in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot) and, perhaps most surprisingly, the gay life.

Set in the middle of the Middle East, a region where attitudes towards gays veer from disapproval through imprisonment to state murder, Tel Aviv – scrappy, edgy, slightly rough-around-the-edges Tel Aviv – is an oasis of tolerance. For the last ten years, the city has funded a gay centre, a beautiful, spacious building up there in the Meir Garden park, where you can see performances, have lunch or join discussions about stuff like being an older-generation gay person (the theme of this year’s Pride), while it decks the streets with rainbow flags come Pride and puts on a celebration that, in a town of just 400,000, attracts a quarter of a million people, including old ladies, babies, the works.

 

“Tel Aviv is perfectly placed for some very historical travel if that’s your thing”

To go to Pride, to display your rainbow flag, to refer to it as Love Day are all signs that you’re liberal, not just gay-friendly, in a place where the battle lines are drawn between those who believe in personal freedom and those who live by the good book, whichever of those particular good books of yours happens to be.

But even though that conversation is ongoing, you don’t have to enter into it to enjoy this jewel of the Mediterranean that stretches from Jaffa, a quaint, ancient and lively Arab town on the coast, to the sparkling skyscrapers of downtown Tel Aviv. You’re on holiday. Why would you want to get serious?

Stay in one of the growing number of slick hotels – from the Dan Tel Aviv (HaYarkon St 99, www3.danhotels.com), the rainbow-fronted number on the beach or something swisher like The Norman (Nahmani St 23-25, thenorman.com – and tuck into what seems a bit like Barcelona before it became the Barcelona of the Olympics.

You can wander along the pedestrian Rothschild with an ice cream like you can along the Ramblas and you can hang out in the man-soup of a beach just like you can at Barceloneta. And you can go to any one of the constantly changing menu of gay bars and clubs that veer from huge circuit parties – like the one at the water park just before Pride that apparently turned frisky come sundown – through small-scale bars where most of the action takes place in the street over drinks to out-there “cruise” parties like Beef: just because the country is the cradle of world religions, that doesn’t mean you can’t go out in underwear and indulge in inappropriate touching. In Tel Aviv at least.

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