Yoav Sivan, 34

Israeli LGBT rights activist and journalist

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two weeks before receiving his diploma from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Yoav Sivan was shaking hands with none other than the president of the United States and hugging the first lady at the annual White House Correspondents dinner.

Sivan is a journalist, political activist and gay rights proponent from Tel Aviv, and the second Columbia Journalism graduate student ever — and first Israeli — to receive a White House Correspondents Association fellowship for his studies.

While in Israel, Sivan was the only person to serve on the boards of both the Jerusalem Open House and the Aguda, the LGBT advocacy associations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, respectively.

“It saddens me that the murder last summer in Tel Aviv actually proved that there’s so much work that needs to be done in terms of promoting the rights of the LGBT community in Israel,” he said, of the incident last August when a gunman opened fire at a club for gay teenagers near the Aguda, killing two and wounding 15.

Sivan thinks that real progress for gay rights in Israel will be possible in the near future and lauds politicians for backing the movement. He cited Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar — both from the right-of-center Likud party — as supporters, saying their statements following the Aguda attack were helpful. “It is too soon to tell the extent to which they act upon their words, but this is progress.”

A natural bridge builder, Sivan, at 19, organized a study group between fervently Orthodox yeshiva students and left-wing students from Tel Aviv University.

“It was part of my attempt to show that reason can be blind to religious differences.” Though he says he misses his country, Sivan intends to stay in New York a bit longer, before ultimately returning to Israel.

Linguist: Sivan can speak Hebrew, English, French and German, as well as some Arabic, Norwegian and Spanish. He loves arguments — in any language.

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