News & Politics

Jerusalem Pride 2015 and its Aftermath

Three weeks ago, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stabbed six people at Jerusalem’s annual LGBTQ pride march. One victim, 16-year old Shira Banki, died of her wounds several days later. The assailant, Yishai Schlissel, was released from jail only a month before the attack, after serving a 10-year sentence for stabbing three people at Jerusalem’s 2005 pride march.

Yishai Schlissel (Photo: CNN)

Yishai Schlissel (Photo: CNN)

Schlissel handed out leaflets to his neighbors just before this year’s march, announcing his intention to stage a repeat performance, and inviting others Jews “do their duty” by joining him. It seems that no one bothered to notify the police. And the police did not consider on their own the possibility that Schlissel might return so quickly to the scene of his last crime. A commission has been formed to begin the official finger-pointing over this lapse of security and forethought.

Schlissel stabs a marcher at the Jerusalem Pride March (Photo: CNN)

Schlissel stabs a marcher at the Jerusalem Pride March (Photo: CNN)

I was numb for several days after the attack. Because my family and I would have been there if I had not cancelled because of a last-minute work commitment; because my heart ached over a teen’s senseless murder; because the attacker claimed his Jewish faith justified his actions; because I’m worn out from all of the violence and hatred that seems to be swirling around me. (The morning after the attack, Israel learned that an 18-month old Muslim baby boy was burned to death in his home in a suspected arson attack by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.)

Shira Banki, 16, stabbed at this year's Jerusalem Pride March (Family photo)

Shira Banki, 16, stabbed at this year’s Jerusalem Pride March (Family photo)

Now that a bit of time has passed and I have regained my senses, I am left wondering: what’s the takeaway message? That LGBTQ discrimination and hate-crimes are alive and well in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem? That’s not seriously in dispute, despite prevalent accusations of pinkwashing in Israel. Religious extremists and legislators still invoke biblical epithets and refer to pride marches and marchers as “abominations.” We don’t have marriage equality here. An anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill was summarily defeated in committee this past June. A recent viral video of a gay couple being verbally abused for holding hands while walking the streets of Jerusalem speaks volumes about the work that still needs to be done to ensure LGBTQ equality and safety in Israel. Even Israel’s LGBTQ Mecca, Tel Aviv, has has been shaken by violent and fatal hate-crimes in recent years.

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at anti-violence and anti-homophobia rally on August 1.  (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at anti-violence and anti-homophobia rally on August 1. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There is no denying that this most recent wave of anti-LGBTQ violence has triggered especially strong lip-service. Israel’s president, prime-minister, cabinet members and and one of the country’s chief rabbis have all uniformly condemned the attack. One member of the Knesset came out of the closet the very next day. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews have reached out and met with some in the LGBTQ community. Thousands of rank-and-file Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and beyond. Even in my neck of the woods—the more rural Jezreel Valley—members of several towns and kibbutzes joined together for a special prayer service for peace.

But what’s next? Sure, Schlissel will almost certainly be sent back to jail, and one or more police officials will likely be reprimanded or fired. But will there be any other meaningful change, or will we all go back to business as usual? Even if I were a betting man, I’d keep my chips in my pocket.

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2 Comments

  1. Deborah Goldstein says:

    So upsetting, Ian. How is it living in Israel on a day-to-day basis? Do you and your family deal with intolerance and hatred on a daily basis or have you managed to find a slice of Israel that is supportive in spite of institutionalized discrimination?

  2. Ian Chesir-Teran says:

    Thanks for asking, Deborah. Thankfully, living in Israel on a day-to-day basis has been very positive for us. Our kibbutz community has grown to now include 5 queer families, including a trans family that moved here about 2 years ago. There’s obviously still a learning curve from time to time for some of our straight neighbors, but I imagine that would be in many/most more rural areas, even in the US. One challenge that has been hard to address has been the fact that in Israeli public schools, “homo” is still an insult that is hurled at kids all too often. We’ve had to address it one or twice over the years, but a lasting solution to the problem is still elusive…

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