Text size

An Israeli umbrella organization encompassing gay and lesbian groups told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that ministers in his government are guilty of incitement against the homosexual and transgender community.

"More than once we hear grave instances of incitement from many officials, including members of Knesset and ministers in your government," gay community leaders wrote in a letter to Netanyahu. "We, the members of the LGBT community in Israel experience verbal and physical violence on a daily basis."

While gay leaders praised Netanyahu on Thursday for his "historic" visit to the site of a deadly shooting at a Tel Aviv club last week, his decision to deny access to the media in covering the event was met with criticism.

Netanyahu told leaders of Israel's gay and lesbian community on Thursday that he would do more to root out manifestations of hate within Israeli society.

The premier also promised community leaders that his government would work to address their needs.

Netanyahu made the comments on Thursday, when he paid his first visit to the Tel Aviv center where a gunman killed two people over the weekend.

"I realize that the gay community has special needs," Netanyahu said. "I want to assure you that we are open and receptive and that I as well as the ministers in my government will advance these important issues, some of which became known to me today."

Netanyahu added that he believed "that the labeling and negation of human beings is wrong in and of itself. We were all made in God's image, we all have basic rights, the first of which is to be respected by our fellow man and to respect others."

"Unfounded hatred is wrong," the prime minister continued, adding that "anyone who had experienced that kind of hatred, as an individual or as part of a group, knows how painful and wrong it is. Its something we need to try as hard as we can to root out of our society."

"I think that the Israeli society has advanced in its tolerance, and I am sure that we can move it further forward."

Representatives of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community attending the meeting, however, expressed disappointment at the fact that the session, held at the location of Saturday's murderous attack, took place behind close doors.

Officials involved in coordinating the visit claimed that the decision to close the meeting off to reporters came as a result of pressure applied by Netanyahu's coalition partners.

"We were very disappointed that the Prime Minister's Office chose to reduce the event's exposure as a result of political considerations," the Tel Aviv municipality's coordinator for gay events, Adir Steiner said.

"The PM talked about the injury to democracy, and it was up to him to see that the media, democracy's watchdog, is given access."

Steiner also praised Netanyahu for the visit, still stressing the need to give recent events increased public exposure.

"We respect the prime minister for even coming," he said. "It was an important visit, and Netanyahu was warm, interested and supportive. However, we did expect that such a historic event, the first time a prime minister visits a gay establishment, would receive more media coverage."

Earlier Thursday, LGBT community leaders sent a letter to the prime minister, in which they cited "daily violence" against gay, lesbian and transgender people in Israel.

Police closed off local Tel Aviv roads ahead of Netanyahu's visit to the LGBT center and would not let reporters near the site.

Several prominent members of Israel's LGBT community were present at the time of the prime minister's arrival.

Netanyahu was accompanied during his visit by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, as well as the latter's predecessor, Avi Dichter.

Community activists said they expected the prime minister to convene immediately a ministerial panel on the matter of full civil rights for homosexuals and recognition of same-sex marriages.

"We believe that this is the time to change history and right the wrongs that have been caused up till now against such a large sector within the State of Israel," community leaders urged Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres has confirmed that he will address a rally in memory of the victims at the Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

A Haaretz-Dialog poll has found that nearly half of the Israeli population believes that homosexuality is a perversion.

The poll, conducted under Prof. Camil Fuchs finds that 46 percent of the people surveyed answered the question "Do you see homosexuality as a perversion?" in the affirmative, while 42 percent answered that it was not a perversion. Twelve percent said they did not know.

The survey also finds that 71 percent of the ultra-Orthodox population believe homosexuality is a perversion. So do 67 percent of the religious (Orthodox), 64 percent of the Arabs, 57 percent of the Russian-speaking immigrants, 44 percent of the observant (traditional) Jews and 24 percent of the secular population.

The survey, which will be published Friday in full in Haaretz, consisted of a representative sample of 498 interviewees.

Fuchs said that a certain decline in homophobia can be seen as compared to previous surveys. An international survey conducted in 2007 revealed that the positions regarding homosexuality in Israel were less liberal than in other Western countries, but more liberal than in Russia, Ukraine and South Korea. The level of homophobia in Israel is close to the level in Bulgaria, he said.