“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” said Harvey Milk, in a prerecorded message he made in the event of his murder. Milk was the first openly gay politician in the United States, a San Francisco city councilman, and he was indeed assassinated by a bullet. These words reverberated after bullets killed Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi at the Barnoar LGBT youth club in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2009, exactly six years ago. And they’re relevant again after six people were stabbed at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem on Thursday.
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The stabbing, allegedly carried out by the same perpetrator who stabbed three people at the Pride Parade a decade ago, reminds us that, despite the liberal image we flaunt, Israel is still not a safe place for gays, lesbians, transgender people or bisexuals. Numerous acts of violence against the LGBT community are reported every year (particularly against transgender people – for example, a violent attack on three transgender women in a coffee shop in Kiryat Haim, near Haifa, last May).
A report compiled by the Nir Katz Center for LGBT Violence in Tel Aviv notes that the phenomenon doesn’t exist only among isolated individuals, but is also expressed in statements from public officials.
While speaking abroad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to point out the persecution of gays in Iran. Yet a member of his own coalition, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), organized a homophobic countermarch against the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem in 2006 – he called it “the beast parade” – only a year after the 2005 stabbings. Words of condemnation heard now from Education Minister Naftali Bennett ring hollow in light of the homophobic views of his party, and the fact that Smotrich is a member of his faction.
Netanyahu’s condemnations are also hollow – both because of his coalition partners but also because his governments have done close to nothing to end legal discrimination against the LGBT community.
Behind the pinkwashing, and alongside the many LGBT-rights achievements made by members of the community and court rulings, it turns out that homophobia in its worst forms exists within the Israeli government – particularly in the education minister and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s party, as we saw before the Knesset election in March. So, Netanyahu can talk all he likes about the persecution gays face in Iran, or boast of the gay candidate on Likud’s Knesset list. But his coalition is directly tied to the racism of organizations like Lehava, which protested at the wedding of Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour last summer, and also protested against Thursday’s parade in Jerusalem.
It is also directly linked to remarks from one MK calling for bulldozers to demolish the High Court of Justice – the same court that grants rights to the LGBT community, and sometimes to Palestinians as well. It is also connected to what happened in Jerusalem on Thursday, not far from that same courthouse.
Hopefully, these stabbings will destroy every closet door. Not only LGBT closets, but also the closets of silence that legitimize homophobia as legal discrimination continues; the closets of silence that legitimize homophobia within the governing coalition and the government itself; the closets of silence that should make it impossible to be in favor of the LGBT community while being against democracy, and in favor of racism and oppression of other minority groups.