Proud in the ‘State of Tel Aviv’

In the face of two horrific murders committed in the name of God, we must stand up for a secular, humanistic, and pluralistic culture.


People on the right, whether in the secular, religious or messianic factions, are now trying to disconnect themselves from the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, as well as from the burning of the baby Ali Sa’ad Dawabsheh. In the same way, they tried to disconnect from Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 worshippers at a Hebron mosque, and from Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir.

Then and now they refuse to take stock of the hatred and incitement they sow everywhere, directed at Moslems, members of the LGTB community, people on the left, secular people and social activists, judges and non-Orthodox religious people. They are irredeemable inciters. LGTB community members and their supporters were right in not allowing Habayit Hayehudi politicians Naftali Bennett and Yinon Magal to speak at a rally in Tel Aviv’s Meir Park, and they did well to boo Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz.

As a homosexual, but foremost as a democrat and a humanist, I’m proud of these actions. It’s my moral duty to reject with non-violence their generous offer to whitewash their anti-democratic faces. These are not people who truly believe in equality for all human beings, these are people who believe that their love is more worthy, that there is only one kind of family and one kind of marriage. More than anything, these are people who believe that some heavenly entity promised them this land, that they belong to a chosen people raised above all others, and that they have the divine right to rule over others since they are a “light unto the gentiles” (meaning that one day the gentiles will also recognize their superiority over other races). These aren’t people I’d invite to speak even at a meeting of a local apartment building committee let alone at a rally protesting the hatred that they, along with their coalition colleagues, help disseminate. I’m not at all moved that their feelings were hurt.

The chain of hate crimes didn’t materialize out of thin air. They are part of a public atmosphere happily fostered by the state’s leadership for many years. The question is how the rest of the public, a majority in my opinion, which has been taken hostage by a handful of people such as gay-bashing MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), will respond. One can, of course, always join the fascist-racist celebration, maybe even fortifying oneself like MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) has. One can sink into depression, emigrate, absorb oneself in escapist TV series, or stand up and fight. The terrible state we’ve descended to is an opportunity for those who come under the umbrella of what is code-named “the State of Tel Aviv” – although there are lots of us all around the country – to disavow the toxic, forbidding culture that is trying to entrench itself from the right; a culture of rulers, supercilious and pitiless, a racist culture that feeds on a lust for clods of earth and a hatred of others.

It’s time to rid ourselves of feelings of inferiority and abnegation in the face of religion. The secular, humanistic, pluralistic culture, which encourages freedom of thought, based in the West as well as the East, is far from being less worthy than sacred writings and “king messiah” trumpeted by some Orthodox sectors. Secular culture that includes music, philosophy, law, literature, film and TV, architecture, dance, art, psychology, free media, science and more is something to be proud of, but for some reason we don’t take sufficient pride in it.

These things embody a rich, multi-layered tradition of creativity, values and thought that respect anything that is of human origin, no less and often more so than biblical stories (a work of literature that is stunning in the main, though some sections are outdated and mainly promote insane violence and diverse, strange manners of execution). Instead of bowing our heads before those who claim that religious culture is full and the secular one empty, we must get stronger in a secular vein. Be proud of this culture – argue with it, criticize it, have doubts, create new things, but be proud of it. Find the pride and enthusiasm that religious believers have when facing the ark of the Torah – refute the feelings of superiority and ownership of the truth they are convinced they represent.

This is the time for members of the “State of Tel Aviv,” wherever they are, including members of the Reform and Conservative movements, and even of progressive Orthodox Jews, to raise their heads and say, “We are ‘better’ than you” – better in the sense that we stand for something that is good instead of bad, not that we are superior to them as people.

It’s time we took pride in freedom of thought, in pluralism, in human dignity and freedom, in the principle that all human beings are equal, and in the rich culture we grew up on, some of which, with all due respect, includes the study of the Bible. My “State of Tel Aviv” compatriots – be proud in having lofty ideals. There’s no shame in it. Use our own “sources” and become strong in fighting those who wish to turn us into a closed messianic cult, valuing some people more than others, feeding on a distorted and partial interpretation of holy writings, disseminating a hatred that kills. This is not only a battle for our lives but one over the sanctity of life, as opposed to those who sanctify dying in the name of God. For God’s sake, be proud!