A deadly shooting spree in a Tel Aviv gay youth centre has reminded the world that it is not just the Islamic parts of the Middle East where homophobia is rife.
Two were killed and another 15 wounded by a gunman in an unprovoked attack. In the days after, Israeli homophobes set up a Facebook group, I hate gays too, in direct reference to the shooting.
A poll conducted by Haaretz newspaper following the shooting found 46 percent of Israelis still believe homosexuality is a perversion. Only 42 percent said it was not.
It seems strange that this could happen in a country that recognises same-sex marriages performed abroad, that has gays serving openly in its military, and where same-sex couples may adopt. But such victories have come largely via the courts and the country’s parliament, the Knesset, is still home to many an outspoken homophobe.
And such MKs have a malicious support base -” in 2006 ultra-Orthodox Jews (-˜haredim’ in Hebrew) rioted in Jerusalem for days, protesting a planned Pride march, burning cars and street furniture and beating passers-by in an outbreak of violence that makes the Cronulla riots look like a minor street scuffle.
And while the killer’s identity remains unknown, haredim have been involved in two disgraceful acts in the last few days. On Thursday gay activists and a journalist with Israeli Army Radio were attacked by a mob in a haredi neighbourhood in West Jerusalem while putting up anti-homophobia posters about the killing, and a soldier with a haredi military unit is being held by police for for making online threats in relation to a rally held in response to the shooting in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Yet that same rally was attended by President Shimon Peres and the education and culture ministers of the current right wing government. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have also spoken out -” though much of the finger pointing has been at Netanyahu’s coalition partner, the religious Shas Party, whose MKs have in the past blamed gays for causing earthquakes and called homosexuality a disease.
Homophobia will continue to exist in Israel but if anything positive has come from this incident, it is that perhaps now a conversation has begun.

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