Israelis care about gay people. They really do! (Even if half think you’re perverted, apparently.) And they showed just how much by showing up by the thousands last night in downtown Tel Aviv.
Family members of the victims of last weekend’s gay youth center shooting attended a colossal rally in Rabin Square, joined by Mayor Ron Huldai and President Shimon Peres, who told the crowd of about 25,000, “We are the people of ‘Thou shall not kill’ … The bullets that hit the gay community at the beginning of the week struck us all as people, as Jews, as Israelis … criminals will not set our agenda.” He added: “Israel will never reconcile itself with such a crime and will not rest until the criminal is brought to justice … This terrible act of murder will not be wiped from our hearts.”
The rally was not without incident. Transportation organizers said they received anonymous telephone threats of violence; the caller said grenades would be hurled at the crowds, leading to even tighter security around the rally. There were no actual reports of violence.
Perhaps equally as important as the enormous showing of support from fellow citizens, then, was the promises from legislators that they would act to protect LGBTs.
Before the rally, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said she would support any GLBT bills proposed by legislators.
“I am here to identify with you and to call on the parents to cope and to give their children love and warmth. There is a certain hatred and ignorance in society and among certain communities that are motivated by fear,” Livnat said.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said at the rally, “The GLBT community is one of the communities that has contributed the most to the State of Israel in many fields – in culture, in the arts, in the legal system, education and the military. It is out of the ordinary, it is because of its talent.
“Every single member of the community has the basic right to live their live without fear and without being a target of hatred, contempt and condemnation – we will all defend this right.”
He then pledged that the education system will do more to deepen education in tolerance and accepting those who are different. “The education system will have training, will give tools to educators and teachers to reach out to distressed boys and girls who suffer not because of a transgression they have committed, but because of who they are.”
Last night’s rally will undoubtedly become one of those singular moments for Israeli’s gays — an instance of “Where were you when?” Indeed, it’s tragic that a tragedy is required for these moments to come about. But the death of two members of the community, and the injuries of a dozen others, must become an opportunity for good. It must be used as a teaching moment for equality, an opportunity to show the world that attacks against LGBTs are attacks against everyone. And it’s a perfectly opportune time to remind Israelis, Americans, and everyone else that even inside regions we think “tolerate” or “accept” us, there are still those who want nothing more than to see us perish. And we must stand up against those threats. Together.