Bennett: No value worth the death of a girl

Education minister invited LGBT activists to discuss the needs of LGBT youth in education system.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
Education Minister Naftali Bennett sent “deep condolences to Shira [Banki’s] family” upon learning of her death on Sunday.
“This is a black day for the State of Israel, a day when our image has become darkness on the nations instead of a light unto the nations, a day when a high school student was murdered for her opinions and stances while she marched in a solidarity parade with the LGBT community,” Bennett said.
Banki, 16, was one of six people  stabbed at the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade  on Thursday, and died of her wounds on Sunday.
“There is no value in the world worth the death of a girl, and there is no value in the world over which it is permissible to incite violence,” Bennett said. The Education Ministry was preparing to immediately make available psychological guidance for the students at Banki’s school, the Hebrew University Secondary School, also known as Leyada.
During the last hours of Banki’s life, Bennett met with representatives of LGBT social organizations to discuss the needs of LGBT youth in the education system.
“I have heard about the difficulties encountered by children and youth that have led as far as wanting to commit suicide and this is very serious and worrisome. I will not accept offenses based on religion, race, sexual orientation or political orientation in the education system,” the minister said at the meeting.
Transgender youth have an especially difficult time.
According to Elisha Alexander, director-general of Ma’avarim (Transitions), there is a 41 percent rate of attempted suicide among the transgender community due to bullying and violence against them.
“This is about saving lives. We hope that the meeting will lead to the issue being addressed seriously,” said Alexander.
Atalia Israeli-Nevo, head of the Gila Project for Empowering the Transgender Community, said that “due to separation from family, lack of professional attention by school staff, and bullying, trans girls drop out of school and often reach the street.”
Daniel Jonas, chairman of Havruta – Religious Gays, said, “The problem does not start in the education system, rather in the statements of rabbis and leaders of the religious community.
“When [Samara Chief] Rabbi [Elyakim] Levanon said two weeks ago that homosexuals are a deviation and must be fixed, he did not allow his students to come to him and share their distress. The words of community leaders and rabbis have meaning, and it is time that they take responsibility for their words. Havruta will continue to work for the advancement of orthodox LGBT in the orthodox community,” Jonas said.
Ran Leabel, director-general of Israeli Gay Youth, summarized the meeting with Bennett saying that the organization leaders had explained the needs of LGBT youth as well as the power the words of public officials have.
“More than any budget, as education minister you must understand the power of words as a public leader and head of a party [Bayit Yehudi]. History needs brave leadership that will speak out against LGBT-phobic statements from inside the party – that will be backed up with resources and funding for LGBT youth. As in the past, and now more than ever, we will not relent until statements [of support] turn into actions,” said Leabel.
Also in attendance at the meeting were Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry; Chana Shadmi, head of the Israel Psychological and Counseling Services division at the ministry; Oded Frid, director-general of the Israeli National LGBT Task Force; and Yaheli Ben-Ami, director of the Hoshen – The Israeli LGBT Center for Education and Change.
The Israeli Gay Youth organization released on Thursday evening its demands that the Education Ministry fight LGBT-phobia in the schools.
Its demands included encouraging and funding programs, educational initiatives, and pedagogical changes to the curriculum in an attempt to create a safer and more tolerant school environment for LGBT youth.
Also on Thursday evening, immediately following the stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, Bennett directed the Education Ministry to prepare a program to help education toward prevention of incitement and attacks on the LGBT community, including a budget increase for the Israeli Gay Youth organization.
“I will not allow that in the State of Israel youth will fear going out into the streets because of their lifestyle. We are responding to this attack with actions and not just talk, to strengthen and give tools to youth suffering from racism and homophobia in schools,” Bennett said on Thursday.
Israeli Gay Youth opened its youth centers, phone hotlines, and WhatsApp instant messaging support lines on Sunday afternoon after Banki’s death and called on those in need of support to turn to them.