Almost three weeks after the stabbing attack during Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, which left sixteen year old Shira Banki dead, Israeli society is engaged in a continuing soul searching over the attack and the status of Israel’s LGBT community.
Israel has a vibrant LGBT community and it celebrates in its strong record of freedoms and protections. Nonetheless, there are clear homophobic elements in Israeli society.
Yishai Schlissel, the parade stabber – who had previously attacked a pride parade in 2005 – is a member of the ultra-orthodox community in Bnei Brak. While acknowledging that there is homophobia among religious Jews in Israel, attitudes toward the LGBT community are not monolithic.
According to a Haaretz report, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews from Bnei Brak reached out to the LGBT community and met with their representatives at the Gay Community Center in Tel Aviv. Although the Ultra-Orthodox participants decided to stay anonymous, the importance of the dialogue and the discussion lay in the fact that it took place and was reported in the press. Such an unmediated encounter enables knowing each other on the basis of openness and an attempt to accept the other – a positive sign after the dark events.
On the other side of the spectrum came the much publicized comments of Bezalel Smotrich, an ultra-nationalist and a member of Knesset from the Jewish Home Party, who serves as Deputy Knesset Speaker. Over the years Smotrich has made numerous anti-gay statements, and has described himself as a “proud homophobe.” Days after the attack, he referred to gay pride events as “abomination parade” (a term he has used before). In an interview he gave a few days ago on Galei Israel radio, Smotrich said: “There are a lot of gays in the media and they decide for us what to think and what to say.” Smotrich said that their “control” of the media has created legitimacy and public support for them. I am confident that 95% of Israelis want their children to raise a model family and have grandchildren. That’s what a healthy, normal person wants… These people have enormous power in shaping our consciousness. They number dozens of dominant people. So naturally, people can’t hear a voice like mine and when I speak to the media, I’m cut off after half a sentence and I sound deluded because I’m unable to explain myself.”
Jewish Home head and Education Minister, Naftali Bennet, responded, “I reject these statements with disgust…” and many others rose to condemn Smotrich. Meanwhile, Ometz, an organization whose mission is to promote ethical governance, is asking the Knesset Ethics committee to review Smotrich’s comments.