What does last week’s shooting of young lesbians and gays in Tel Aviv tell us about Israeli society?
It is not an easy question. As a pluralistic, democratic nation, there are many sides to Israel. How the nation views the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT ) community is every bit as varied.
There is progressive Israel, a beacon of LGBT civil rights on par with London, Paris and Amsterdam and the other great cosmopolitan cities of Europe. This is the Israel of Tel Aviv, where same-sex couples hold hands on the street and where LGBT people have visibility and presence in every walk of life, and where the annual LGBT parade and the LGBT community centre receive funding from the municipality.
This liberal Israel, with Tel Aviv at its heart, would be the last place where you might have expected last week’s shooting to occur.
But Israel is not just Tel Aviv. It is also the Israel of Jerusalem and religious communities across the country, the Israel of Cabinet ministers, Knesset members and rabbis who specialise in incitement against LGBT people.
Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai, of the religious and deeply anti-LGBT party Shas, regularly calls gay people sick. Such outspoken hatred by a Cabinet member would no longer be tolerated by even the most conservative Prime Minister in Britain or conservative President in the United States.
Certainly, until last week’s shooting, we had come to accept that the two Israels could live together in détente — the détente that civilised democracies require among potentially conflicting segments of their societies.
Eli Yishai would practise his homophobia while the LGBT community would enjoy ever-growing acceptance by the majority of the population.
Now we understand this formula cannot work. If all of Israel does not yet embrace the LGBT community, certainly no part of Israel can be engaged in incitement. Homophobia is not a legitimate part of public debate in a healthy society. If it understands that lesson, Israel will become a beacon of LGBT rights around the world.
Yoav Sivan is a former board member of the Aguda, the Israeli LGBT Association