When an ultra-Orthodox fanatic named Yishai Schlissel stabbed six people at the Jerusalem Gay Pride march in July — 16-year-old Shira Banki later died of her wounds — Schlissel also fractured Israel’s self-image as a global beacon for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
For years, Israeli diplomats have used their country’s impressive record on LGBT issues to score political points on the world stage. But the picture they painted was of Tel Aviv, the so-called gay capital of the Middle East, with its gay and lesbian bars and beaches, and miles of rainbow bunting unfurled ahead of the raucous annual pride parade. Forty miles to the east, Jerusalem’s gay community feels like a stifled minority.
As the broad LGBT movement in Israel takes stock of the attack, the differences between the two societies has come to the fore. Three days after the stabbing, Tel Aviv activists declined to travel to Jerusalem to protest the violence, instead staging a separate rally in Tel Aviv’s Gan Meir park. The Tel Avivians had already planned a memorial service that evening to coincide with the six year anniversary of a fatal shooting at a local gay youth center. But Jerusalemites still felt stung by the decision.
“When this happened the expectation was that everyone would drop everything and come and be in solidarity in Jerusalem,” said Tom Canning, spokesman of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. “We wouldn’t be our small group of hundreds of activists, we would be our group of activists with thousands behind us. There was a strong sense of disappointment, I would even say disbelief, that [Tel Avivians] were deciding to go ahead with their own event.”
Tel Aviv’s rally drew major politicians, with impassioned speeches by Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Though President Reuven Rivlin spoke at the Jerusalem protest, activists there bemoaned the disunity between the two communities that they said feeds into Tel Aviv’s image as the only safe haven for gays in Israel.
“The Tel Aviv-based organizations are giving hand to creating and strengthening an LGBT ghetto in Tel Aviv,” said Canning.