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August 14, 2009

 

70,000 protest killings at Tel Aviv LGBT youth center

Tel Aviv--A gunman attacked an LGBT youth center in this city on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, killing two people and injuring ten others.

The August 1 attack drew immediate criticism from the country’s right-wing government, the leader of the opposition, the mayor of Tel Aviv and other prominent figures.

A week later, 70,000 people from across the nation gathered in the city to protest the violence, bearing rainbow flags and signs reminding others of one of the Ten Commandments--“Thou shalt not kill.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the center on August 6, where five days earlier a man wearing a mask walked in and opened fire. The assailant then fled on foot through the busy streets of Tel Aviv.

“We’ll bring him to justice and exercise the full extent of the law against him,” the prime minister told his cabinet at their weekly meeting.

Israel is perhaps the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly in the military, queer celebrities are popular and gay pride events occur each year.

The only real opposition to full equality for LGBT citizens in Israel comes from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are powerful in society and government.

However, even the ultra-Orthodox political party Shas issued a statement condemning the attack.

At the August 8 rally, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai expressed a sense of failure over the killings.

“We must legislate and call out loudly: No more incitement,” the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth quoted Huldai. “We would like today for the bullets that pierced Liz [Trubeshi] and Nir [Katz] to be the bullets that break through the walls of hatred and ignorance in our society.”

Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, also spoke at the rally, noting, “We are the people of ‘Thou shall not kill.’ ”

“The gunshots that hit the community earlier this week hit us all. As people. As Jews. As Israelis,” he continued. “The person who pointed the gun at Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi pointed it at all of you as well, at all of us, at you, at me.”

“There can be no gunmen within us,” he urged.

In addition to Peres, whose function as president is largely ceremonial, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat also attended the rally.

Despite the near-universal condemnation of the attacks, calls came in threatening the rally and the buses being used to shuttle people from the north and south to the central Israeli city.

A 20-year-old soldier admitted to posting threats online and was arrested. Hours before the rally, he posted, “Expect more victims among the gays, this time something bigger,” and “A second attack on the community soon. Be ready. Don’t say we didn’t know.”

The soldier, Shmuel Primark, is a member of the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, a wing of the Israeli Defense Force for very observant Jews.

Police cars were assigned to collection points for the buses shuttling in people after calls came in threatening grenade attacks on the buses. No attacks materialized, however.

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