Israeli LGBTQ Activists Criticize Police Over Raid on Tel Aviv Gay Club During Pride Month

Club owner arrested after drugs found on 14 patrons; witnesses say officers gathered towel-clad patrons and shone flashlights on them

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Officers raid Sauna Club in Tel Aviv on the night of June 7, 2019.
Officers raid Sauna Club in Tel Aviv on the night of June 7, 2019.Credit: Israel Police

Police raided a Tel Aviv gay club overnight Friday, shutting it down and arresting the owner and another employee after drugs were found in some patrons' possessions.

According to witnesses at Sauna Tel Aviv, officers gathered customers, clad only in towels, in the middle of the club and shone flashlights on them. Police found drugs, including crystal meth and ecstasy, on 14 people, who were questioned and released.

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Members of the LGBTQ community criticized the raid, which occurred during Pride Month, arguing it represents a breach of the trust between law enforcement authorities and the LGBTQ community. Less than a week before the popular Tel Aviv Pride Parade, some also said many more tourists than usual were at the club.

Etai Pinkas Arad, who holds the LGBT portfolio in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, said of the incident: "Without getting into Israel Police's operational considerations, the choice to conduct such a raid during Pride Month and just a week before the Pride Parade is categorically wrong, unnecessary, and damaging to trust between police and the LGBT community."

Pinkas Arad added that community leaders will request a meeting with district police to ensure that there is no intention of singling out LGBTQ clubs and that police action will not violate LGBTQ individuals' dignity.

The Israeli National LGBT Task Force meanwhile said: "There's no doubt that the phenomenon of drug use in the community must be combated, and there are many ways to do so. However, we cannot help but wonder about the Israel Police's choice to raid an LGBT club as Pride Week begins, without awareness of the necessary sensitivity."

Police, for its part, said they would "work determinedly against those clubs in which there is trade and use of drugs in a public and blatant manner. The fight against the drug problem will hurt the business owners, in their pockets and their profits, because they are responsible for everything that occurs in clubs that they own."

Earlier Friday, hundreds of Israelis took to the streets, with some clashing with police forces, to spontaneously protest the cancellation of a trance music festival. Police cited intelligence suggesting that drugs would be sold at the festival for its decision to ban the festival.

The organizers, who said they had already obtained nearly all of the necessary permits, including by the police, asked the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on Tuesday to reverse the police's decision but were rejected, leading to a Supreme Court appeal, which was also rejected earlier on Friday.