On 1 August, two gay and lesbian youth were murdered in Tel-Aviv, in the most severe homophobic terror attack in Israel’s history. The attack was followed immediately by an important wave of protest, in which the Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel) fully participated, against the Israeli establishment’s incitation to homophobia, and against oppression of LGBT people.
Charlie James and Shahar Ben-Khorin, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel)
Charlie James, a CWI member, used to volunteer in the “BarNo`ar” (“Youth Bar”) – where the attack occurred – and some of his friends were among the victims. He adds a personal note:
I had a personal connection to the “BarNo`ar”. When I relocated to Tel-Aviv a few years ago, the “BarNo`ar” was one of the first and most favorable places for me, a place where I could meet new friends, play billiards, chess, cards, and talk about everything. When I grew up, I became a guide over there, trying to give back what was given to me. We were there – me, Nir (his life now brutally taken), Nofar, and Khen. Every weekend we used to come, in rotation, to assist in operating the place, preparing food for the kids and the youth, calming their quarrels, organizing events, and most importantly – discussing with them, and let them realize that they’re not alone in this world, and there are people to support them. It was a sacred mission for us.
After years of incitement and violence, eventually it has happened in Tel-Aviv. On 1 August, around 23:00, a man wearing all black clothes and a mask stormed into a facility of the LGBT Association while a weekly evening event for LGBT youth was being held. The terrorist fired all over the place for about a minute, walked into the rooms and searched for those which were hiding. The majority of those present were seriously wounded, some managed to escape through the backyard, and two – Nir Katz (26) and Liz Trubeshi (16) – were killed on spot. Nir was a guide who assisted the many youth that used to come to this center, such as Liz. The terrorist has escaped capture thus far.
Soon after the news about the murderous attack spread, people began assembling near the spot, and spontaneously prepared mourning and protest placards. Some came up to speak of the horror. Late in the night, a few hours after the attack, the protesters – over a 1,000 by then, among them LGBT & other members of Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel) and Hadash (the Communist Party-led front) – began marching through main roads in Tel-Aviv, shouting against homophobic incitement: “Inciting homophobes – you have kids’ blood on your hands!”, “Gays and Lesbians want to live in this city!”, “We won’t go back to the closet – There’s no such thing as a democracy without equality”, “We want equality of rights – in the workplace, in school, in marriage – full equality and nothing less!”, “We fight for equality – We smash the closet!”, “A gay is marching here with no fear!”, “All of us, together, with pride, and without fear!”. The march ended at the city’s LGBT centre for a mourning assembly.
The following week saw an unprecedented amount of LGBT protest, solidarity and mourning events in Israel, and these influenced an unprecedented scale of public support for the LGBT struggle. The week peaked with an historic mass rally in Tel-Aviv, with the participation of approximately 70,000 people. Internationally, events of solidarity – including marches and protests – were organised in major cities in western Europe and in the USA.
Crocodile tears of the establishment parties
This enraged response, initially mainly led by radical left-wing forces, brought exceptionally explicit denunciations to the attack from most of the major political parties (the truth is that if they had not done so, it would have lead to a much wider radicalisation). At the same time, there were strong attempts to water-down the protests, starting with the outrageous claim that “you can’t be sure the motive is homophobic, and it might be related to a ‘broken heart’”. These were expressions of institutionalised homophobia, disregarding the fact that the terrorist knew exactly where he was heading and tried to slaughter as many LGBT youth as possible. If it had been a nationalist terror attack, the police would not have dared to claim that the terrorist might have had a personal motive due to a broken heart.
The day after the attack, a rally of hundreds was organised near the spot of attack, just before the funerals began. The fear, the rage, the pain of those present, were deeply felt. Irritatingly, politicians from the establishment parties, including the head of parliamentary opposition, Tzipi Livni, came to give hypocritical speeches of support. These major politicians ignored the responsibility of their own parties for the homophobic incitation, discrimination, and whitewashing of the far-right, and focused on a personal call to parents to accept their kids and for youth to gain the strength to confidently ‘come out of the closet’.
While she was in government herself, Livni always stayed quiet regarding the harsh incitement towards hatred of LGBT people from within her government, as her right-wing coalition colleagues compared LGBT people to beasts, and blamed “non-straights” for being mentally ill, for spreading diseases and causing earthquakes (literally). Members of Livni’s party, Kadima (“Forward”), supported anti-democratic legislation which was meant to allow municipalities to ban Pride parades. Her party colleagues, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, strongly condemned the annual Jerusalem Pride parade (which is a principled anti-homophobic march). The current president, Shim`on Peres – also from Kadima – gave a speech to the weekend mass rally, but personally participated in the harsh homophobic campaign, which led to the terror attack on the Jerusalem parade in 2005, when an ultra-orthodox settler stabbed marchers. Ironically, Peres, who said back then that he is generally against pride parades in Israel, was sharply criticised in Haaretz newspaper the day after the mass rally: “Was one of the only banners in the rally which called – ‘The Homophobes in Power are Responsible for the Disaster’ – directed towards the president of the state who is incapable of saying the word ‘Homo’?”. That big banner was that of the Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI in Israel), and of course it was directed towards the president.
Homophobia in the Communist Party
It is perfectly understandable why many people would lay hopes and have illusions in the fake display of unprecedented sympathy from the establishment towards LGBT rights (including a first time visit by a prime minister to an LGBT center, due to the fact that Netanyahu had to compete with Livni). However, it was unfortunate to see gay Jewish activists from the Communist Party opportunistically clapping hands during Livni’s speech the day after the murder, and effectively assisting illusions in her, instead of trying to expose her in a wider context. Aside from the lack of practical steps to smash homophobia and the far-right, could it be ignored that while Livni is now giving speeches about her care for the future of youth, she was a full participant in attacking poor and working people families, welfare services, and the massacre of hundreds of youth – LGBT and other – in Gaza and Lebanon?
A CP leading gay activist, who has founded the LGBT group (“Red-Pink Forum”) in Hadash, responded to the terror attack with a public article making severe criticisms of the widespread and rooted homophobia in the CP and Hadash (which he claims is a joint “Jewish-Arab” phenomenon), and the sheer opportunist approach of the leadership which is afraid “to lose votes” if it makes a strong principled stance on this question. One of Hadash’s MPs even made a homophobic remark in the Knesset a few months ago.
The Hadesh MP Dov Khanin said correctly, when he spoke at the small 2 August rally before Livni, that the pain and anger should be translated into determination and struggle. But unfortunately, unlike an excellent bisexual activist speaker, he did not make an explicit and concrete link to other acute struggles of the time, and did not raise criticisms of the establishment parties. Unlike him, the aforementioned bisexual activist referred sharply to the struggle against the far right-wing government, the struggle against deportation of immigrant children, and the brutally repressed struggle against the occupation of the Palestinians.
End to all discriminations
Socialist Struggle Movement’s LGBT and other members led a small protest at the end of that rally, the day after the attack, chanting: “The homophobes in power are responsible for the disaster”, “We won’t forget, we won’t forgive – We’ll struggle and won’t runaway” and “Social justice now – Full equality to LGBT”, “Equal rights to all communities – Enough with all discriminations”. Many joined our calls. A similar protest circle was held at the end of the mass rally – where CWI members and some supporters attended, distributed our designated statements and stickers, discussed with people about the situation and the way forward for the struggle, and met people interested in joining our organisation. Towards midnight we were joined by some youth and adults, and we called, in addition to previous calls:
“A real democracy – No more religious coercion”, “Less talks, more deeds – Terminate homophobia”, “Enough, enough with discrimination – separate religion from state”, “Enough, enough with discrimination – in the workplaces”, “Struggling against the government – which oppresses and incites”, “1,2,1,2 – We shall march in Jerusalem!”, “Homophobia and Racism – that’s the same violence”, “Jewish and Arab LGBT – fighting against oppression”, “In Gaza and Sderot LGBT also want to live”. Some youth joined us in singing: “Ohhh, a coward homophobe, a racist politician, an exploiting employer – we’re gonna kick you the hell out of here!” and “In Tel-Aviv, in Jerusalem, in every corner in this country, crushing homophobia, and liquidating incitement!”
The struggle continues
The public pressure on the political establishment, the government, the police, the courts, has led to a temporary surge in legal persecution of incidents of homophobic incitement and threats (except for those made by big politicians, of course). This is a covering up of the state’s routine outrageous conduct, but should also be seen as a certain achievement of the recent protests.
Since the terror attack, there has been an impressive mobilisation of LGBT youth and adults, with a certain layer of mostly youth who have been radicalised and entered the sphere of political activity and a wider struggle for the first time. This murderous terror attack has shattered for many the illusions fostered by liberal and elitist elements that Tel-Aviv is a safe “bubble” and the struggle there is over. Homophobic violence, although on a lesser scale than other major cities, is still a daily reality in Tel-Aviv, and it’s also important to notice that murders and suicides influenced by homophobia and sexism are also an integral part of reality, even if the cause of death is being blurred in many cases.
The strengthening of right-wing forces is a general danger. It is manifested in wide attacks on democratic rights, or for example in the fact that right-wing activists came to Tel-Aviv in recent years to protest against the annual Pride parade there. The question of how to fight the far right must be dealt with.
Beware false friends
The mainstream leadership of the LGBT organisations are extremely satisfied with the establishment’s hug, and prefers to avoid any escalation of struggle now but focus on mourning and are satisfied with politicians’ promises. But this hug is a dangerous bear hug from false friends, and things must be viewed in their wider political context, where a far-right wing government is engaged in a war against both the majority of the Israeli population and the Palestinian population, and is posing a threat to the security of populations in neighboring countries via a dramatic increase in militarisation. An unpopular, paralysed and not very stable government might want to appease, with gestures and promises, this struggle or another for its own bloody interests. Crushing institutionalised homophobia is important, as part of the struggle to liquidate completely homophobia, sexism, and racism from society – but the government and so-called opposition establishment parties will provide no serious solutions. As always, only through a determined struggle can serious change be achieved, and this will have to include the complete sweeping aside of the current ruling rightwing political forces.
The days following the murders have brought up new independent initiatives and formations. Events, protests, marches – many of them were held in spite of objection by the primary organisations’ leaderships. These independent initiatives – mostly led by youth activists (particularly transgenders) who are disgusted with the capitalist opportunist self-appointed “leaders” of the community – put a tight emphasis on the need for democratic discussions, and sometimes also on the need to link up with other social struggles. These efforts show the potential of a more serious democratisation of these organisations, which is a condition for a longer term progress in the LGBT struggle.
The establishment bear hug opens the door for the strengthening of right-wing forces, and eventually for an increase in the oppression of LGBT people. But in parallel, there is a radicalised layer of activists who are seeking a way to lead this struggle to a real victory, with the spirit of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. Many of the radical activists realise very clearly that all discrimination and oppression must be abolished. This can be achieved only through a social revolution that will initiate the building of a socialist democratic society.
As before, we intend to continue our principled involvement in the LGBT struggle, strengthen collaboration with independent initiatives, discuss and suggest steps to promote the struggle, including linking-up with other social struggles, and convince new people to join us for this determined fight.