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Jerusalem Pride Parade Attack Is Again Tearing Israel's LGBT Community Apart

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A memorial service held for Shira Banki in Tel Aviv, August 2, 2015.Credit: Nir Keidar

The knife thrust into Shira Banki last Thursday did its job. Exactly six years after the murder at the Barnoar gay youth club, the LGBT community has once again been traumatized. Despite all the societal and legal changes, the growing visibility, the fact that there is more equality and apparently more acceptance, once again, someone hates it enough to kill. And that hatred isn’t unique to the murderer: Just like after the Barnoar murder, many social media posts have justified Banki’s murder.

Attitudes toward the LGBT community largely reflect the duality of Israeli society. On one level, it seems like a liberal, democratic, open and vibrant society, and the gay community’s substantial rights are part of this story. Yet Israel also has many anti-democratic elements – not on the margins, but at the heart of the governing establishment. And whether their roots lie in nationalism, religion or elsewhere, they are expressed daily.

The same duality affects the LGBT community. There’s greater visibility, more equality, a greater façade of acceptance, but also a lot of homophobia that erupts in an ugly fashion. And this was true of reactions to the murder as well. It’s easy to denounce physical violence and murder. But those who do so even as they continue to support legal discrimination against the LGBT community send the message that LGBT people aren’t people who deserve equality, even if they also don’t deserve to be murdered.

The Barnoar murder, which occurred at a time when the LGBT community was feeling safer, stronger, and more accepted, reminded it of the intensity of the hatred that exists and of its consequent insecurity. Now, the Jerusalem murder has revived this trauma. It touches the deep fear of rejection and hatred that causes people to remain in the closet, even if it also led public figures like MK Itzik Shmuli and broadcast journalist Keren Neubach to speak openly about their own sexuality for the first time.

But there’s another way in which what happened last week recalls what happened after the Barnoar murder, except with even greater intensity. The argument over the roster of speakers at Saturday night’s rally in Tel Aviv revealed an almost unbridgeable rift between those who view homophobic violence as part of the broader issue of human rights and racism – and therefore refused to let Habayit Hayehudi MKs Naftali Bennett and Yinon Magal speak and booed Likud minister Yuval Steinitz – and those who see the LGBT issue as independent of issues like racism and the occupation.

Thus just like after the Barnoar murder, activists were divided instead of being united against homophobia. And this bitter dispute had many victims.

Rightist and religious members of the LGBT community were hurt by the rejection of their elected representatives, and by implication, their own exclusion from the community. They also saw what happened as a missed opportunity for change within their own communities, which would have been advanced by having rightist and religious leaders address the rally. But others were offended that people whom they view as part of the homophobic establishment, and more broadly of the racist and anti-democratic establishment, were allowed there at all, since they feel that such people share the blame for violence against the LGBT community.

A feeling of internal grievance has thus been added to the post-traumatic stress everyone is experiencing. And in such a situation, much of the anger and trauma are directed inward.

This dispute reflects a real dilemma between the desire to receive legitimacy, which is perhaps especially important today to rightist and religious members of the LGBT community, and a reluctance to grant legitimacy to politicians who are involved in a policy of repression toward other groups, and are sometimes part of the homophobia problem themselves.

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