Netanyahu Affirms Tolerance During Historic Visit to Tel Aviv Gay Center

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While gay leaders praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday for his "historic" visit to the site of a deadly shooting at a Tel Aviv gay youth center last week, his decision to block media from covering the event drew criticism. Some community leaders told him his ministers were inciting against homosexuals.

"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. He said the visit was the first time an Israeli prime minister visited a gay establishment.

"The prime minister talked about the injury to democracy, and it was up to him to see that the media, democracy's watchdog, is given access," Steiner said. But he praised Netanyahu for coming.

"We respect the prime minister for even coming," he said. "It was an important visit, and Netanyahu was warm, interested and supportive."

Netanyahu's visit to 28 Nachmani St. was his first visit to the Tel Aviv center where an unknown gunman killed two people and injured 15 Saturday night.

An Israeli umbrella organization for gay and lesbian rights told Netanyahu yesterday in a letter 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 to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu told leaders of Israel's gay and lesbian community 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.

"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. 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 it out of our society."

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

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