Jerusalem Mayor, Why Are Gay People So Unprotected Here?

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Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

A rally for tolerance will be held today in Jerusalem under the banner “A city suffused with light,” in memory of Shira Banki, the 16-year old girl murdered at the city’s Gay Pride Parade. Mayor Nir Barkat was featured as the keynote speaker in every announcement of this event, organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, with the help of the Jerusalem municipality and in coordination with the Banki family. I don’t know whose idea it was to feature the mayor so prominently and it doesn’t really matter. In his speech Barkat has to provide some explanations - no more hollow words about the unified city, which in fact is divided and torn; no more empty words about tolerance and acceptance of the other; and no expressions of fake contrition that aren’t backed up by action. What is required of you, honorable mayor, is to provide explanations.

It’s time to explain why you didn’t cut short your vacation abroad when a horrific hate crime was committed in the heart of the city you lead. Maybe you could explain why some of your spokesmen said you were on vacation while others said you were on an official visit. It’s your turn to tell us why the rally at Zion Square, attended by President Reuven Rivlin, was beneath your dignity. You must tell your city’s inhabitants why you sent your deputies to mumble some of your office’s insufficient explanations, why you abandoned them to contend with the crowd that angrily, and justifiably, cut off their words with cries of: “Where is the mayor?”

It’s time you explained why you haven’t visited the Open House even once since you assumed office. Ehud Olmert, who as mayor was the closest political ally of the ultra-Orthodox community, came when he was invited.

Mayor Barkat, it’s time you explained why members of the Open House had to beg for years, to no avail, to be granted positions for social workers at the community center. Only after the murderous attack that made waves around the world were three social workers quickly dispatched there.

You must explain why, before the stabbing occurred, members of the Open House had to plead to be paid any attention. We need to know why it took 10 petitions until funding owed by law to Jerusalem’s gay community started arriving. Can you explain away the endless bureaucracy? Can you say why it is that after 17 years of activity and undeniable contributions to society, including the daily saving of lives, the Open House must still go begging in order to maintain its physical presence in a rented office, instead of in a permanent home?

What did you learn from the spilled blood and how do you use your influence to stop the ongoing incitement against the gay community in your city? Why aren’t you silencing City Council members who are trying to block the implementation of a decision made to allow the Open House to send speakers to schools? Why do you and your people, who aren’t ignoring the blood that was shed, ignore the incitement to violence that is occurring daily in the public sphere and in your city’s streets?

It’s time you told us why two men can’t walk hand-in-hand in the city, a week after the murder, and why a transgender woman will find it hard to be treated with respect by municipal officials?

Why does the Lehava anti-gay organization still run wild in the streets, and how is that gays are still beaten up outside their clubs? One of these people narrowly escaped serious injury or worse when a broken bottle was thrown at him as he was fleeing through the streets of the Nahalat Shiv’a neighborhood.

I have low expectations of you, Mayor Barkat. You have disappointed me and my generation, who have left the city in droves, even while staying active in social and cultural affairs in the city in which we grew up. I still believe you’re not homophobic and that you’re a liberal who supports the rights of the gay community. It’s time to come out of the closet as such. The gay community in Jerusalem and the entire country needs this to happen. The path is very simple – no more empty speeches, only explanations.

The writer is a gay activist and former member of the governing committee of the Open House in Jerusalem.

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