Ariella Benshmuel – Pride and Acceptance:Not Just for the annual Parade.
We must oppose hate, and resist homophobia, racism and misogyny all year round.
This Thursday Jerusalem held its annual gay pride parade. It was colorful. It was joyous. An exuberant celebration of life, love and freedom. For a brief moment the spotlight was firmly focused on the LGBT community. Flowers were lovingly placed on the spot where Shira Banki was brutally slain last year. Murdered for merely supporting her friends. For espousing the simple notion that everyone deserves to be treated equally.
But once the parade has ended, the LGBT community will be unceremoniously swept aside until next year. Until the next pride parade in the next city.
And we will forget. Forget that in spite of the façade of equality, much still needs to be on behalf of the LGBT community, even in Israel of 2016. Granted, the Israeli LGBT community has made great strides in many aspects of life. However, even a cursory scan of the news in recent weeks shows us that unfortunately, hatred and incitement still abound. In a sense it feels as if we have taken some major steps backwards when it comes to gay rights.
The sheer hatred and anti-LGBT sentiment we have witnessed in the media recently is nothing short of appalling. Rabbi Yig’al Levinstein, the head of an IDF pre-conscription academy deemed members of the LGBT community “deviants” and stated that they should not be allowed to serve in the military. Ramat Gan’s chief rabbi, stated that homosexuals are “disabled, suffering from real problems that must be cured through psychological treatment and medication.”. Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim, recently appointed as head of the military rabbinate, has stated that “homosexuals, who are ‘sick or deformed’ should be ‘helped to escape their situation, with a lot of sensitivity and patience”. The list goes on and on.
While these blatantly homophobic and ugly statements can be easily dismissed as just words, rants that should be rejected without much consideration, the fact that they even voiced and publicized is in my eyes, highly disturbing.
Words have impact. Words have real and powerful consequences. And these words leave an ugly scar on the soul of an entire community. Two years ago Levinstein’s hateful words nearly drove a young man to suicide. His friends thankfully stopped him. The mark on this young man’s spirit, however, can never ever be removed.
Unfortunately, anti-LGBT sentiments in Israel extend far beyond words as well.
Just a week ago the Be’er Sheva pride parade was canceled after the police denied participants permission to march through the city’s main road and diverted the parade to a side street instead. This in wake of intelligence reports that warned of potential violence at the parade. Moreover, the police indicated that the event could “deeply hurt religious sentiments”. The organizers ultimately decided to nix the event and hold a protest instead.
Prior to the Jerusalem parade, Israeli police announced unprecedented security measures to protect participants due to threats of violence.
Clearly we need to take real, concrete steps to put an end to this festering hatred. Our politicians need to announce- clearly and unequivocally that these words-and these actions- will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, we have only seen them make feeble statements at best.
Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim’s nomination as chief army rabbi was upheld. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, though he may have issued a strongly worded criticism of Levenstein, leads a political party in which several members have made blatantly anti-gay statements- most notably Bezalel Smotrich who deemed himself a “proud homophobe”. Mayor Nir Barkat was not in attendance at Jerusalem’s pride parade so as “not to offend religious sensibilities”. Barkat was sure, however, to send out a twitter message stating that “Jerusalem remains a beacon of tolerance, acceptance of others & unconditional love.” A year after Banki’s murder, the mayor’s absence at the pride parade spoke far louder than a hastily written message on social media.
Perhaps we, as a greater community, need to stand up, speak out and inform our politicians clearly and unequivocally that intolerance will not be tolerated. That hateful words and actions are to be rejected powerfully and absolutely, not with feeble statements . That homophobia, racism,misogyny and other forms of intolerance are unacceptable and will not be condoned. Perhaps we need to stand hand in hand with the LGBT community all year round. Granted pride parades are important, They do much to raise awareness. But they are not the be all and end all. We need to stand against bigotry -all of us- before the next suicide. Before the next tragedy. Before the next death. Before hate trumps love.