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By Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel — Tens of thousands of Israeli LGBTQ advocates and their supporters went on strike across the country Sunday, protesting the exclusion of gay men from a recently passed surrogacy law.

The community is outraged that after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to pass legislation supporting surrogacy for gay fathers, he then voted against it, apparently under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox Jewish coalition partners.

Protesters marched in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities on Sunday, waving rainbow flags and briefly blocking a major highway.

Supporters of the LGBT community hold a protest against a discriminatory surrogate bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 22, 2018.Corinna Kern / Reuters

Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square was packed with tens of thousands of people for the main demonstration Sunday night. “Although Israel has a very liberal image concerning gays it’s not the case when you look at the Israeli law,” said former Israeli lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz at the protest, who called for law amendments to ensure equal treatment for the LGBTQ community.

Hundreds protested near Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.

Eyal Lurie Pardes, a protester draped in a rainbow flag, chanted: “We will not remain silent!”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me I don’t deserve to be a father!” he said.

Demonstrators display a banner of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a rally to protest against LGBT inequality in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 22, 2018.Sebastian Scheiner / AP

Footage aired on Israeli TV later showed police pushing him into a police car. Israeli police said two people were detained and then released.

The protest has grown into a general call for equality, following other recent controversial legislation that appeared to target Israeli liberalism.

The protest has generated widespread support and hundreds of employers said they would allow employees to observe the strike without penalty.

LGBT community members block a highway during a protest against a surrogate bill in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 22, 2018.Oded Balilty / AP

Israel has emerged as one of the world’s most gay-friendly travel destinations in recent years, in sharp contrast to the rest of the Middle East where gays are persecuted and even killed.

In Israel, homosexuals serve openly in Israel’s military and parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are homosexual.

However, leaders of the gay community say Israel still has far to go in promoting equality.

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