The murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade on Thursday was a terrible tragedy – for her family and friends, and for those who envision an Israel that protects the freedom of all.
Shira succumbed to her wounds on Sunday at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem after a three-day battle for her life. She was stabbed by Yishai Schlissel, a fanatic homophobe who carried out a similar attack at the gay parade in Jerusalem a decade ago, and was just released from prison a few weeks ago.
Shira is survived by her parents and three siblings. Her family decided to donate her organs to save other lives.
The family issued a heart-wrenching statement saying: “Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old – full of life and love – who came to express her support for her friends’ rights to live as they choose. For no good reason, and because of evil, stupidity and negligence, the life of our beautiful flower was cut short. Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl. The family expresses hope for less hatred and more tolerance.”
Shira represented the very finest of Israeli society.
According to her family and friends, she balanced a strong Zionist ethic with the liberal and democratic values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Taking part in last Thursday’s parade was her way of putting into practice its promise that the State of Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and “will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
Shira, a student at the Hebrew University Secondary School (known locally as Leyada) and a gifted classical pianist, went to the parade to show her support for gay friends.
By marching in the parade, she was embodying the belief that these promises are not just fancy notions empty of content. Rather, these values have very practical ramifications.
For Israelis born with a particular sexual orientation, upholding these values publicly in Israel’s capital city means people such as Labor MK Itzik Shmuli or Israel Radio presenter Keren Neubach don’t have to hide who they are – not in the streets of Jerusalem, the halls of the Knesset or even in the studios of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
In a Facebook post after last week’s stabbings in which he announced that he was gay, Shmuli declared: “It is impossible to remain quiet any longer because a knife is being brandished over the entire LG BT community, my community.”
Schlissel, the fanatic who stabbed Shira and five others, was a lone wolf representing no one but himself. However, there are many others who, like Schlissel, would like this year’s gay pride parade to be Jerusalem’s last.
People such as Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich, who represents a large swathe of the religious Zionist community, have referred to the gay pride as “a blasphemy” that defiles the holy city.
Over the decade since Schlissel’s first violent knife attack, Smotrich and others – both religious Zionist and haredi fanatics – have staged a “parade of animals” near the Knesset in Jerusalem comparing homosexuality to bestiality.
Such fanatics must not be allowed to exploit democratic process to curtail the rights of others, whether homosexuals or other minority groups in Israeli society. Shira and other participants in the gay pride parade understood this.
One way of honoring Shira’s memory is to make sure that next year’s gay parade in Jerusalem draws many more supporters than this year’s.
“Shira was murdered because she courageously supported the idea that everyone is entitled to live their lives in dignity and safety,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a message of condolence. “We won’t permit the terrible murderer to challenge the basic values on which Israeli society is built.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) demanded that extremist groups that incite hatred be banned, saying Shira had been a victim of “Jewish terror.”
“I cry for Shira,” Herzog said. “She is the age of my children.
We will not tolerate violence, racism or LG BT-phobia of any kind.”
We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the violence of fanatics and bigotry. We owe it to Shira Banki, who was laid to rest at Kibbutz Nahshon on Monday evening, to stand up courageously for the values articulated in our Declaration of Independence which she espoused. May her memory be for a blessing.