Livni to Gay Israelis: Don't Let Hate Crime Stop You Living Your Lives

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Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Sunday urged Israel's gay and lesbian community to continue living their lives, despite the "hate crime" perpetrated in a shooting at a Tel Aviv gay youth center that left two people dead.

"This hate crime needs to be a turning point and to give strength," Livni told hundreds of Israelis who rallied in Tel Aviv to protest the attack, in which 15 people were also wounded.

"We need to give strength to the child who comes to his parents and says: 'I am gay,' or 'I am a lesbian;' and this day needs to give the strength to everyone in the gay community to live their lives."

The opposition leader said the incident testified to problems in Israel's society, irregardless of the actual motives of the gunman.

"This should be a day of self reflection, not only for all of you but for all of us," she said at the event, which had been billed as a protest against hate crime and homophobia. "This is not only a great day of pain for you but it is a day of pain for all of us."

A number of other politicians also spoke at the rally, which was held at the intersection of Rothschild St. and Nachmani St., only meters away from the site of the shooting.

MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) told the crowd: "The pistol did not act on its own, the gunman did not act on his own - what stood behind him was incitement and hatred."

"The fact that there are wounded children lying in the hospital whose parents won't visit them says everything."

Nitzan Horowitz, Israel's only openly gay lawmaker, said: "If anybody thinks we'll be afraid, they are wrong. If anybody thinks we'll sit down and take this quietly, they are wrong."

The rally took place as hundreds of police officers scoured the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday in a door-to-door manhunt for the gunman, who fled the center after the attack.

Outside the center, a bouquet of flowers rested on the curb near barricades erected by police and a sign reading, "Stop Homophobia."

MK Yuli Tamir (Labor), a former education minister, called on the school system to make efforts to fight homophobia.

"Teachers must open their doors and open their ears to these children who need them," she told the crowd.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said the attack highlighted problems within Israeli society.

"A state that expels children should not be surprised when things like this happen... People shouldn't fool themselves to think they live in a protected bubble," he said, referring to a plan to deport migrant workers and their children from Israel.

Peres: An enlightened people cannot accept this type of murder

Earlier Sunday, President Shimon Peres harshly condemned the shooting.

"The shocking murder in Tel Aviv last night is the kind of murder that an enlightened and cultured people cannot accept," Peres said. "Murder and hate are society's toughest crimes."

The president went on to say that the police force must make the utmost effort to apprehend this "lowly criminal" and that the "entire country must unite in condemning this heinous act."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also voiced shock and dismay at the attack, saying "I want to condemn the shocking murder."

"I extend my condolences to the families of the victims and wish a full and quick recovery to the wounded," Netanyahu said.

"I want to say to the citizens of Israel - we are a democratic and tolerant country and we must respect every person as he is," the prime minister went on to say.

Netanyahu added that he had asked Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who is in charge of Israel's police force, to do everything in his power to apprehend the gunman and bring him to justice.

Aharonovitch, who was present at the scene of the attack, said that "this is a serious and grave incident, and it is being handled by the police. There are many leads. I can say that I was at the scene, and it was a difficult sight."

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also expressed shock and sorrow Sunday morning. Livni, who is in contact with the gay and lesbian community, said that "even if all the details surrounding the event are not yet clear, the hatred exists and must be dealt with."

"This grave incident should awaken society to rid itself of prejudice. We must accept and recognize the right of every person to live safely and with dignity," she said.

"This event should shake up society, and all the circles inherent in it, including the political establishment and the education system, and on this day deliver an unequivocal message against intolerance, incitement and violence, and to act against any manifestation of these," the opposition leader went on to say.

Tel Aviv Mayor vows city will stay pluralistic

The mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, pledged that the city would continue to maintain its pluralistic nature.

"Tel Aviv will continue to provide a welcoming home for the gay and lesbian community, and we will fight for everyone's right to live their life as they see fit," he said.

MK Horowitz said the attack had all the symptoms of a hate crime.

"This is the worst attack ever against the gay community in Israel, he said. This act was a blind attack against innocent youths, and I expect the authorities to exercise all means in apprehending the shooter," he said.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a frequent critic of gays in Israel, issued a statement condemning Saturday's attack.

"We are shocked and bereaved, and denounce without reservation the murderous incident that targeted Tel Aviv's gay community," the party said.

"I would like to condemn, with the utmost severity, the ugly show of hatred we witnessed in Tel Aviv yesterday," Channel 10 quoted Defense Minister Ehud Barak as saying. "I want to send condolences to the families and wish the victims a quick recovery."

Barak also said that law enforcement authorities must go out of their way to "suppress these atrocious acts and to use an iron fist to bring the perpetrator to justice."

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich also on Sunday said the attack was a result of ongoing incitement, and urged police not to shut down the city's gay centers, but to provide them with the necessary security.

Gay leader says Shas fostering hatred

Mike Hamel, the head of the Aguda, Israel's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization, said such an attack was unprecedented in Israel.

"We have joined the list of 'civilized' countries in which hatred is the standard," he said. "I don't know whether the incident was directed at youth, but it appears that it was directed at the community. This is baseless hatred that cost us dearly - this is what needs to be understood."

Hamel said that "elements represented by [Shas leaders] Eli Yishai and Benizri that are fostering hatred are still stronger than the increasingly favorable attitude toward homosexuality."

Hevruta, an organization of religious gay youth, issued a statement saying that "we in Hevruta are shocked by the murder of two innocent people and the wounding of people who didn't do anything to anyone. We hope that the police will apprehend the heinous killer and will bring him to justice."

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said Sunday that "Jewish communities in Israel are holding their heads down in the face of the loss of life and the pain of the wounded in this criminal act."

"The possibility that the incident was a hate crime shocks our souls and represents a painful reminder of the devastating power of hate and incitement," he went on to say.

"We say a prayer for a quick recovery of the wounded, and add to this prayer an ongoing commitment to promote tolerance in Israeli society and to stubbornly fight prejudice and hate hand in hand with the gay community," he concluded.

Immediately following the attack, an impromptu demonstration was staged, in which hundreds of people carried banners accusing Shas of inciting hatred against homosexuals.

A second protest has been planned for Sunday at 5 P.M. outside the building where the attack took place.