Police: Don't call Tel Aviv shooting a hate crime yet

Mourners at a memorial service in Tel Aviv for the victims of the shooting spree this week

Mourners at a memorial service in Tel Aviv for the victims of the shooting spree this week

Tel Aviv police are investigating additional motives for the attack on a gay youth club on Saturday night, rather than labelling it a simple “hate crime”.

The shooting spree, which resulted in the deaths of 17-year-old Liz Trubeshi and 26-year-old Nir Katz, and the wounding of 11 others, was initially interpreted by the media and politicians as an attack against the gay and lesbian community.

The unidentified shooter was portrayed by the press as someone who hated homosexuals for religious or racist reasons.

But Israeli Police Commissioner Dudi Levi has warned his detectives not to “point the finger at whole communities” and to keep in mind that the killer’s motive could be personal.

One of the main question marks in the investigation concerns the choice of target. There are other, more prominent gay clubs operating near the youth club on Nahmani Street, and if the killer was simply planning to attack homosexuals, they would have served as much easier and obvious targets.

The club, operated by the Israeli Gay Youth Movement, is in a basement and has no advertising outside on the street.

“The whole aim of the place is to act as a shelter for young people still coming to terms with their sexual orientation,” explained a gay activist in Tel Aviv, “so it is purposely unobtrusive and only people within the community are really aware of its existence.”

Police investigators were questioning teenagers and counsellors who had been at the club in recent weeks over whether there had been any violence, fights or threats made there.

Detectives have also posted appeals for information on social networking websites used by Israeli teenagers.
The Tel Aviv District Court has imposed a gag order on any details of the investigation.

Whoever the killer was, the attack has ignited a vigorous debate in Israel on attitudes towards the homosexual community, with a great deal of criticism aimed at the Knesset members of the Sephardi Orthodox party Shas, who have often spoken out against the community.

The party has since released statements firmly condemning the shooting and denying that anything its leaders have ever said could have been interpreted as incitement to violence against homosexuals.

Shas spokesman Roi Lahmanovich made an official complaint to the Israeli Press Council over a cartoon that appeared on Monday in Ha’aretz showing a number of Shas leaders, including Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, sitting beside Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The strictly-Orthodox daily newspapers in Israel, Hamodia and Yated Neeman, make a point of never reporting violent crime or even mentioning homosexuality, and the shooting was not reported in either publication.

Last updated: 2:47pm, August 6 2009