Deadly attack on Tel Aviv LGBT center: terror, not murder

On Saturday night, a masked gunman entered the Israeli LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Association’s center in Tel Aviv, opening fire with an M-16 on the participants of an Israeli Gay Youth event. 2 people were killed and 15 people, mostly minors, were injured—including six with serious injuries. The unknown attacker fled on foot and remains at large. Meanwhile, the gay community in Israel warned that Israel’s reputation for tolerance was seriously undermined by the incident.
Tel Aviv lgbt attack

BEIRUT, August 3, 2009 (MENASSAT) - The Israeli media quoted police reports yesterday saying that there was “no terror motive” behind the incident, presumably meaning that Palestinian involvement was  not suspected in the attack.

The gay community condemned the “hate crime” as did leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, and Israel’s only openly gay Knesset member, Nitzan Horowitz. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Simon Peres both condemned the attack as “murder.”

Israel’s reputation as ‘haven for GLBT’ (LGBT) damaged

The gay community in Israel warned that Israel’s reputation for tolerance was seriously undermined by the incident. Mike Hamel, the head of the Aguda, Israel's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization said, "We have joined the list of 'civilized' countries in which hatred is the standard… Elements represented by [Shas leaders] Eli Yishai and Benizri that are fostering hatred are still stronger than the increasingly favorable attitude toward homosexuality."

Adir Steiner, coordinator of Tel Aviv gay pride events, received the news of the shooting while in Copenhagen as a representative of Tel Aviv to the World Outgames - "a sporting and cultural event hosted by the gay community."

"Over the past week we have painted Israel on every possible podium as a wonderful place for homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders. This idyllic state which we wanted so badly to believe in exploded in our faces," he said.

Ynet News reported, “In the aftermath, representatives of the gay community have met with Social Affairs Ministry officials and presented them with daunting information: According to their data, 80% of gay teens have been subject to verbal abuse due to their sexual orientation and about half of them have suffered some sort of physical and/or sexual abuse.”

Incitement by religious clerics, from Iraq to Tel Aviv

Israel revoked a ban on consensual same-sex acts in 1988 (existing from the British mandate era), and later passed anti-discrimination laws aimed to protect the rights of LGBT citizens. In 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could adopt children.

Regionally, the shooting is one the most deadly vigilante attacks against homosexuals outside of Iraq, where at least 25 young men have been murdered by militiamen in 2009 for suspected homosexuality. Iraqi human rights groups have accused clerics of inciting violence against homosexuals.  The head of Israel’s LGBT organization has also insinuated that the attack in Tel Aviv was committed as a result of religious parties’ incitement. In 2005, an Orthodox Jewish man stabbed three participants in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade.

Anti-Iran campaign ‘down the drain?'

Notably absent from an editorial by Yossi Sarid in Haaretz, entitled “Gay center shooting is reminder of Israel's hollow tolerance,” was any mention of other pervasive forms of intolerance—particularly, discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel, who are the target of regular incitement from across the Israeli political spectrum. The editorial, in addition, lamented that the attack on the gay rights center would overshadow Israel’s campaign against Iran.

It read, “The anti-Iranian campaign has now been short-circuited and poured down the drain. Here they don't just shoot the prime minister. They also shoot homosexuals.”

The disappointment voiced by Sarid comes on the heels of a Haaretz report earlier this year, announcing that Israel was recruiting its gay community for a PR campaign against Iran. Dozens of suspected homosexuals have been convicted and executed in Iran in the past 30 years, including five minors in the past four years.

“The new campaign, to be overseen by the Foreign Ministry, aims to appeal to people who are less concerned with Iran's nuclear aspirations and more fearful of its human rights abuses and mistreatment of minorities, including the gay and lesbian community. The campaign plans to recruit the international gay community, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed in 2007 when he said there were no homosexuals living in his country.”

While the Israeli media did connect the dots between religious incitement and Saturday’s attack on the LGBT center, it is unlikely that this incident will dampen Israel’s appetite for self-promotion as a haven for tolerance.