Monday, August 03, 2009

Gays murdered in Tel Aviv


Wild weed



We do not know who carried out the ghastly shooting at a gay youth support center in Tel Aviv Saturday night. Some in the media and in the political establishment have jumped to the conclusion that the rampage was motivated by homophobia. Others speculate that the shooter may have been a homosexual with a grudge. We reserve judgment about the identity of the perpetrator; but like most Israelis from across the political and religious spectrum, we condemn this unprecedented assault.

Foremost, our condolences go to the families of Nir Katz, 26, from Givatayim, and Liz Tarbishi, 17, from Holon. Ten of the wounded remain hospitalized, several in intensive care, and we wish them a full and speedy recovery.

For some of the families, Saturday night's bloodbath was a double trauma since there were parents who did not know about the sexual orientation of their children.

The emotional nature of the reaction to this vile attack is understandable. MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, who is gay, participated in an impromptu rally to protest "incitement" against the gay and lesbian community. Granted, there is prejudice against gays in Israel. Yet gay activists readily grant that Israel is one of the world's most progressive countries in terms of equality for sexual minorities, and in some respects - military service, for instance - far more advanced than many other Western societies.

Not only did major political figures rush to condemn Saturday night's attack, but even the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi, Shas Knesset faction - some of whose members have been vitriolic against gays - issued a statement condemning the violence and calling for the capture and prosecution of the attacker.

THROUGH the haze and shock of Saturday night's attack, it is important to maintain perspective. Whoever did it - gay or straight, observant or secular - was a wild weed and not indicative of their community.

Gays in Israel are not oppressed. There is no culture of marginalization. While community standards vary from place to place, gays in metropolitan Tel Aviv are valued citizens. The TA municipality helps fund the annual gay parade. Even in comparatively conservative Jerusalem, an openly gay man, Sa'ar Nethaniel, served on the municipal council in the previous government. It is true that the gay parade invariably generates local ultra-Orthodox opposition. In 2005 a haredi man from Kiryat Sefer stabbed three participants at Jerusalem's gay parade. Not only was he convicted of attempted murder, but ultra-Orthodox leaders have incrementally toned down the vociferousness of their anti-parade agitation. While in deference to local norms, gay pride events in Jerusalem have become relatively (and appropriately) understated. Mutual - albeit tacit - accommodation, backed by the Jerusalem Open House and the mainstream haredi leadership, is a fact of life.

Tolerance toward gays is nothing new. As early as 1953 the attorney-general of Israel issued instructions not to prosecute gay activities. In 1992, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1988 was expanded to prohibit anti-gay discrimination in employment. In 1994, the Supreme Court recognized same-sex partner benefits in the private sector; in 1997 these were extended to the public sector. In 2000, the age of legal consensual homosexual relations was lowered to 16.

Same-sex couples can today legally adopt children. Gay marriages abroad can be registered as legal in Israel. Knesset legislation provides gays with enhanced civil liberties protections. Many municipalities do likewise. Moreover, gay life - far from being delegitimized - is a not infrequent theme in our cinema (The Bubble, Yossi & Jagger), music (Dana International), theater (Passing the Love of Women) and literature.

Contrast the situation in Israel to gay life in neighboring Arab and Muslim countries.

In Iran, homosexuality is outlawed; sodomy is a capital crime. The mullahs endeavor to make the lives of gays miserable. Scores have been flogged and others executed. Gays are not as relentlessly persecuted in Saudi Arabia, but sodomy is punishable by death. In relatively tolerant Turkey, gay life is not criminalized, but neither is there much forbearance for outward displays of homosexuality.

Saturday night's carnage in Tel Aviv is heartbreaking. It is not - at least based on what we know now - cause for national consternation over the place of gays in Israeli society.

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