Orlando massacre has ripple effect felt in Israel's LGBT community

"It reminds us of how much we’re hated."

People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club (photo credit: BECK DIEFENBACH)
People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club
(photo credit: BECK DIEFENBACH)
For a community that has suffered so many tragedies, at some point you might run the risk of having too many memorial days and not enough devoted to just living.
So said Yuval Eggert, director of the Tel Aviv gay center, the morning after at least 50 people were murdered in a terrorist attack on a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“If we do too many memorial days, too many events, it’s hard to know when we just have days to live,” Eggert said, describing how the community already marks days held in honor of those who died of AIDS, and those killed in homophobic attacks or killed in the Holocaust for being LGBT.
Furthermore, the community is already preparing for the Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 21, which will be held in honor of Shiri Banki, the teen murdered last year in a homophobic attack carried by an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Later in the month, they will also hold their annual memorial for the two victims murdered at the Bar Noar LGBT center in Tel Aviv in August 2009, a crime that remains unsolved.
Eggert said the feeling in the community is one of shock, not only about the loss of life, but also about the news from Los Angeles that an Indiana man was arrested carrying guns and bomb-making materials, and said he was en route to the LGBT Pride festival in West Hollywood.
“If this attack had happened, it would have been the 9/11 of the LGBT community,” Eggert said, adding that striking an LGBT club “is something you can’t grasp. You can’t grasp that these extremists can get us at our sensitive, symbolic places.”
Though the terrorist struck at Orlando’s LGBT Pulse club, Eggert said that he and many others believe that homophobia is of secondary importance to the killer, saying his real target was the way of life in the West.
“They want to attack the free world. I think the connection to the LGBT world is secondary. It’s not homophobia. It’s real hatred and the brainwashing within Islamic extremism. They are showing that they are attacking symbols of freedom.”
This point was made even more forcefully by MK Amir Ohana, the Likud’s first openly gay lawmaker.
(Meretz MK Uzi Even, who sat in the Knesset in 2002-2003, was Israel’s first openly gay member of parliament.) “This time it was the LGBT community.
But the Western world and the free world are the targets. They don’t just hate gays; they hate also what gays represent.”
Ohana added that he sees the attack as no different as the shooting attack at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, which left four people dead. In both cases, the targets are “all those who do not adhere to their radical worldview.
This could be other Muslims; it could be Jews, Christians.”
As news from Orlando blanketed the media in Israel, some people lit candles and gathered in Jerusalem’s Zion Square to honor those killed.
In Tel Aviv the gesture was even more conspicuous as city hall was lit up in the rainbow colors of the LGBT flag, as well as the US flag and that of Israel. Mayor Ron Huldai said Sunday night that the gesture was made “out of solidarity with the victims of the attack, and to show solidarity with our friends in the United States.”
The following morning, Huldai sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, in which he expressed his condolences “as a fellow leader whose public has been struck by terrorism and hate crime this week.
I know that the citizens of Florida are strong like those of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and violence will not and shall not break us or change the way we live. On the contrary, it will only unite us in guarding our citizens’ rights and freedoms.”
For Tom Canning, the director of Outreach and Development at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the shooting in Orlando came as the community was set to mark the first year anniversary of the murder of Shiri Banki at the Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 30, 2015. Banki was murdered and several others were stabbed and wounded by Yishai Schlissel. Days before the march, the ultra-Orthodox man was released from prison for stabbing several people at the 2005 Jerusalem Gay Pride march.
Banki will be remembered at the Jerusalem Pride March on July 21st, and Canning said so too will the victims of Saturday’s Orlando attack.
Asked if there is a feeling of fear in the community after the Orlando massacre, he said “the feelings of fear were already there. The community in Jerusalem already has fear on a daily basis, especially since last year.”
Still, every event like this severs as a reminder, a cruel reality check of sorts, that even in their own clubs, festivals and parties, the LGBT community is in danger, said Canning.
“It reminds us of how much we are hated, how much people want to hurt us, and it worsens the feeling that this can happen in any place.”