The murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki and stabbing of five other people whose only sin was participating in Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade elicited shock and denunciations from across the political spectrum.
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In a video clip released after Banki died of her wounds, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Shira was a brave girl. She was murdered by a scoundrel because she supported a simple idea: Every person is entitled to live his or her life in dignity and safety.”
But Israel’s legal and political reality doesn’t match Netanyahu’s message of equality. Aside from the fact that one of the Knesset’s deputy speakers is the man who organized the “beasts’ parade” in response to the Jerusalem Pride Parade, and that members of the same party – one that has systematically thwarted legislative efforts to grant equal rights to members of the LGBT community – serve as the education and justice ministers, Israel’s legal code still suffers from embarrassing signs of discrimination against this community’s members.
Pro-LGBT legislation isn’t a magic wand that will eradicate hatred and ignorance – which, as last week’s murder proved, are still widespread in Israeli society. But it would send a message that the State of Israel sees members of the LGBT community as equal citizens, and it would strip homophobia and hate crimes of their legitimacy. It’s impossible on one hand to boast from every possible platform worldwide about the equality members of Israel’s gay community ostensibly enjoy, as Netanyahu does, while on the other hand perpetuating legal discrimination which sends a message that this community is inferior in the eyes of the law.
Alongside educational and public activity to combat prejudice against the LGBT community, we need a legal reform that will encompass the following changes: instituting civil marriage, or at least civil partnerships with equal status, that will also be open to same-sex couples; changing the surrogacy and adoption laws to put an end to the policy of discriminating against members of the LGBT community; amending the inheritance law to replace the words “man” and “woman” with “partner” and thereby translate court rulings on this issue into law; adding an explicit ban on discrimination based on gender identity to all the anti-discrimination laws; allowing transgender people to change their sex in the Interior Ministry’s population registry without having to undergo a medical procedure, alongside other changes in the ministry and the health system to make life easier for this community; and amending the laws against incitement to racism so that they also prohibit incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Promoting such legislation and engaging in public activity on the issue would prove that all the politicians’ condemnations and expressions of shock aren’t just empty words, and that hate crimes will receive the appropriate response: stepped up implementation of the ideal of equality, which all citizens of a democratic state deserve.