anti-gay-ugandaAsia: Japan and Israel, two Asian nations with the most progressive laws for gays have been silent over Uganda’s notoriously anti gay stance and will continue economic aid to that East African country.

Just days after Ugandan President Yoweri  Museveni signed the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 into law, the Japanese Ambassador to Uganda, Junzo Fujita, said his government will not abandon Ugandans even as some donor countries threaten to withdraw aid.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Uganda, but the new law toughens punishment with life in jail and bans the promotion of homosexuality and covers lesbians for the first time.

Speaking after signing an agreement that will see communities in eastern and northern Uganda access a grant totaling US$203,183 through the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects scheme,  he said, “This issue (anti-gay law) and aid are different. In my own view, people are affected and they need safe water. We cannot close our eyes because of that issue (anti-gay legislation).”

According to Fujita, Japanese understanding of homosexuality is a little different from other donor countries like the US and UK. He was of the view that each country develops through some stage, and it is something that happens naturally.

Signing of the legislation into law by the Ugandan president has prompted agitation in the donor community. Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark have condemned the law and announced a halt in economic aid to Uganda. Austria and Sweden announced they would reexamine their aid programs to Uganda.

Same-sex sexual activity in Japan was legalized in 1880 although same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are ineligible for the legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.

Japanese culture and major religions originated in and imported to Japan do not have a history of hostility towards homosexuality. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned in certain cities.

While other Western nations have announced a halt in aid to Uganda, Israel is silent.  Fearing damage to its alliance with Uganda, Israel has not joined the chorus of condemnations from the West.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry grants Uganda direct aid in the areas of agriculture and health. On asked to clarify Israel’s policy on the Ugandan law, the Foreign Ministry issued a 22 word statement in Hebrew, which did not directly refer to Uganda or question Israel’s cooperative efforts with the country.

Close Israel-Uganda relations date back to the 1960s, under the leadership of then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.  Israel was one of the first countries to open an embassy in Uganda.

Hundreds of Ugandan students received training in Israel, some in medicine and engineering. Israelis presents courses to students in Uganda and helped train Uganda’s infantry and air force. Israel also sells Uganda weapons, such as mortars, machine guns, artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The strategic relationship between Israel and Uganda includes broad intelligence and security cooperation.

Israel’s silence on the law is particularly notable, because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  often makes use of the Israeli LGBT community for public relations purposes. In almost all of his speeches abroad, Netanyahu attacks the Iranian regime for persecuting gays and executing them at public.

Israel is one of the most progressive states in the world regarding the rights of gays and lesbians. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1988 and Israel became the first in Asia to recognize unregistered cohabitation between same-sex couples, making it the only country in Asia to recognize any same-sex union thus far.