Israel's President Still Can't Say the Word 'Gay'

In the Israel of 2009 there is far more homophobia among secular Israelis than they care to admit.

It was an impressive tour de force: Tens of thousands of members of the LGBT community and others came to the square. It was also a touching display of solidarity: Chen Langer, who survived the shooting, wept throughout his speech, a speech made from a wheelchair, even if he got a little carried away when comparing the attack to the "different planet" described by the author Yehiel Dinur - "Katzetnik" - who wrote about the death camps.

But certain things echoed in the square last night precisely because they went unsaid. There were many flags, but very few signs. The community's flag represents all colors of the rainbow, but not all hues of Israeli society came to the square. Most were young, Jewish and secular, as if homosexuality were their privilege, and as if they alone were appalled by the attack. The young were there, born with the silver spoon of equality in their mouths, leaving behind generations of oppressed, hidden gay people. Secular Jews were there, leaving behind other parts of society where nothing is out of the closet yet.

The president gave an official air to the rally with his presence, and an archaic air with his speech, which is best forgotten. Shimon Peres' generation still can't quite pronounce the words gays, lesbians, transgender people and bisexuals. Peres only just managed to speak about the community, as much a reference as his kind of Hebrew can manage. The speech was vacant and cliched even by Peres standards.

"We are the people of 'thou shalt not kill' ... there mustn't be guns and gunmen among us ... we were born for freedom ... the killer shall not rise ... be strong, be brave," blah, blah, blah. Was he, the president who cannot say "gay", the target of a sign that read, "The homophobes in power are to blame"? The host of the rally, Gal Uchovsky, justly praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the discreet, small youth club that was the scene of the attack with condolences and empathy. Netanyahu's right-wing, nationalist government sent two more ministers - education and culture - to the rally, and this is noteworthy, too.

The LGBT speakers talked of a "historic turning point" and "of what will never be the same again ... something big is going to happen" - a rather dubious forecast. And there was also "how beautiful we are here, on the square," and "wow, how lovely." Yes, those gays and lesbians who come to the square seem very beautiful to themselves, although a vast majority of them are preoccupied solely with the narrow gender struggle, a far too narrow fight for anyone who believes enlightenment and freedom are much wider than the right to kiss and the right to a single-sex wedding. The loudest applause came after the words of one of the speakers: "It's time our parents' generation leaves behind its primitiveness." The road is long.

There was no anger at the square last night; it's been years since anyone was angry at anything in this square. Thankfully, no one mentioned the communities instantly labeled as responsible for the murders, the ultra-Orthodox and Shas voters. In the Israel of 2009 there is far more homophobia among secular Israelis than they care to admit.

And behind me, two bald men stood in each other's arms, a picture impossible at this very square only a decade or two ago. The young gay-lesbian community rose from the basement of the youth club to the largest square in the country, in front of the president and two ministers.