In my blog, we’ve been having a lively debate about the nature of gay life in Israel (see comment thread). It’s terribly sad and ironic that our discussion has been punctuated by this horrible news of a homocidal/homophobic attack on an Israel gay community center in Tel Aviv. A gunman clad entirely in black opened fire with an automatic weapon on a group of gay teenagers who were attending a weekly support group. A boy and girl died on the spot and a third died in hospital. [NOTE: Israeli media say that 2 died, but Agence France Presse claims an Israeli "official" reported a third died. This appears inaccurate.]

No one should make the mistake of over-generalizing about whether this attack represents a broader trend of homophobia in Israeli society. As I wrote here earlier, Israel is certainly less homophobic than surrounding Arab states, but less tolerant than many western nations. Anti-gay attacks have taken place in other places though I can’t remember such a serial murder in the U.S. I think it’s best to let a leader of the Israeli gay community speak on the subject:

“It is not surprising that such a crime can be committed given the incitement of hatred against the homosexual community,” the president of Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian community, Mai Pelem, told reporters. In the past, swastikas had been painted at the entrance to the center. The head of Israel’s gay and lesbian national association, Mike Hamel, said: “In our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that the hatred against our community, which is hurting nobody, could go this far.”

Haaretz’s story quotes a survivor:

"At about 10.40 P.M. someone came over, all dressed in black and wearing a black mask," he recounted the unfolding of the incident. "I thought it was a joke at first, but he immediately opened fire. People took cover under the bed and tables, but there were no screams. I hid under a table with someone else. It’s a small place; there’s just one terrace. Once you’re inside, there’s nowhere to run." Gil came to the center every week to take part in activities for teenagers. …"I love this place," Gil concluded, "but I don’t know if I will ever go back there. I want to, but it’s too soon to say.

I was disturbed to hear that the police have closed a gay bar that abutted the community center. UPDATE: Reuters reports this deeply distressing development:

Israeli media said police had warned other gay clubs in Tel Aviv to close for fear of a follow-up attack.

Why? Why should gays slink back to their homes, draw the curtains and retreat to the closet??

You’d think the police would insist that they remain open and provide security to ensure the safety of all customers. Closing the city’s gay bars gives the attacker a victory of sorts and casts doubt on where the priorities of the police lie. In a comment in another thread here, Hasbara Buster posted this quotation from the Jerusalem Post:

“I warned in a column last year that Israel is a place which, on the one hand has liberal laws, but on the other does not attempt to counter homophobia,” Danny Zak, a gay activist and journalist, told the Post during the demonstration. “A murder was waiting to happen,” Zak added. “The Shas party has the blood of two innocent kids on their hands,” he said. “Shas has blamed gays for earthquakes and diseases. This is incitement, but no one is put on trial for it,” he said.

Zak has begun to probe the main issue here. But to go farther, minorities in Israel are always second-class citizens whether they be Arab citizens or gays. There is no fundamental understanding or appreciation for human rights within Israeli society because there is no constitution that protects them as a foundational principle.

So at best minorities in Israel are tolerated. Until the Occupation is ended and Israel faces the deficiencies in its social contract, there will be more such violence. And we should make no mistake by seeing the killings of Israeli Arabs on a bus by a homicidal settler or of Palestinian farmers by Israeli settlers as any different than the killing of gay Israeli teenagers. The killer’s rage may stem from slightly different sources but the problem is the same in every case: Israel does not understand the rights of the individual or the value of the minority.

H/t to Alex Stein.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

I've been writing Tikun Olam, one of the earliest progressive Jewish blogs, since February, 2003. It focuses on Israeli-Palestinian peace and Muslim-Jewish relations. I wrote a chapter for the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection, A Time to Speak Out. I've contributed to Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, and the Los Angeles Times and write regularly for the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog. My work has also been in American Conservative Magazine and Beliefnet and I am on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine.