Israeli gays’ safe haven turns deadly

Aug 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Israeli gays’ safe haven turns deadly

By Jeffrey Heller
Reuters
Sunday, August 2, 2009 7:53 AM

Washington Post

Tel-AvivJERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s gay community was rocked on Sunday by the killing of two people in a homosexual and lesbian youth center and the possibility they fell victim to a hate crime in the Jewish state’s most freewheeling city.

“The biggest shock is to think that it happened in Tel Aviv, which is the most tolerant city in the country,” said Avi Sofer, a gay rights activist.

Witnesses said a masked gunman clad in black opened fire on Saturday night in a basement club belonging to the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association, which was hosting a weekly event for teenage gays.

He killed a 26-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl and wounded 13 people before fleeing, hospital officials said. Police said they were still searching for the attacker.

“Because this is a very open-minded city, there’s a place for us (to meet),” an 18-year-old woman, who said she witnessed the attack, told reporters.

“But there are also those who don’t like us,” she said, giving her name only as Alona.

Although coastal, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv has a bustling gay scene, open homosexuality is less welcome in conservative areas. Annual gay pride parades in Jerusalem meet with often violent protests from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who view homosexuality as an abomination against God.

Condemning what he called a “horrific killing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet: “We are a tolerant, democratic country governed by the rule of law and we must respect each and every person.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the motive for the shooting was still unclear. Police declined to comment.

But Nitzan Horowitz, an openly gay legislator, said he had no doubt there was a connection between the killings and what he termed incitement against the gay community in Israel.

“We demand that the government put an end to this hate campaign and that the Education Ministry institute proper information and education at schools in order to prevent the recurrence of such shameful events,” Horowitz said.

A court order banned publication of details of the investigation, but police said the shooting was not an anti-Israeli attack by a Palestinian.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis, editing by Tim Pearce)

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