Thousands Defy Threats To Rally In Tel Aviv
August 9th, 2009
About 25,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday night to remember the victims of last week’s shooting spree at an LGBT youth center that left two people dead and injured about a dozen others. The rally took place despite threats of more violence:
The rally was preceded by a number of threats against the gay community. Earlier Saturday, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces’ Nahal Haredi unit was arrested on suspicion that he had threatened rally organizers on an online forum.
While in custody, the soldier confessed to making the threats.
Meanwhile, operators of transportation to the Tel Aviv rally received telephone threats from an anonymous caller who warned that grenades will be hurled at attendants of the rally.
Barak Atar, the head of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) chapter in Be’er Sheva, who organized transportation from the southern city to Tel Aviv for the rally, said that “at 2 P.M. we got a call from someone asking where the pickup for the ride to the rally was. We answered him and asked if he was coming, and he said ‘I’ll be there – with grenades.'”
Another bus organizer in Be’er Sheva as well as one in Haifa reported similar threats of grenade attacks. Police are investigating the source of the calls.
The threats didn’t appear to dampen the rally. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai opened the rally with a speech that paraphrased Harvey Milk’s famous quote, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” Mayor Huldai called for a wider impact of those bullets in Tel Aviv, saying, “We must legislate and call out loudly: No more incitement. We would like today for the bullets that pierced Liz and Nir to be the bullets that break through the walls of hatred and ignorance in our society.”
Israel President Shimon Peres also spoke at the rally. He called Israel “the nation of ‘Thou shalt not kill'” and added “Those shots hurt us all, as Jews and as Israelis.” Other speakers included two who were injured during the attack:
Uri Gil, who was injured during the attack on the center, took the stage at the rally together with his friend Chen Langer and said, “That place was a warm and loving home for them and they met wonderful people there.”
“This past week I have been haunted by nightly fear, especially when I think that the murderer is walking around out there,” he added. “No murderer will keep us in the closet.”
Chen Langer, a youth counselor at the center who was also injured in the attack, arrived in a wheelchair and spoke after Gil. “This is the day in which we cease to be silent, to hide, and to alter the appearance of reality.”
Langer tearfully added, “The home that was a place of security for youths became a slaughterhouse of youths.”
Also attending the event were Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, and openly gay Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz. Several musicians performed at the rally, including Rita, Dana International, Ninet Tayeb, Amir Fay Guttman, Keren Peles, Corinne Alal and Ivri Lider. The rally was organized by Gal Uchovsky, a gay film producer and TV personality.
On Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyaho visited the re-opened LGBT center, where he said the attack “bears the mark of terrorism“:
The idea of someone entering a youth club and beginning to commit serial murder – it bears the markings of a terror attack,” he said.
The premier said he believed stereotyping and denigrating people was wrong and unacceptable.
“We are all created in God’s image. We all have fundamental rights, the first of which is to be treated with respect by others and give [them] the same respect,” he said.
“Anyone who has suffered from baseless hatred, as an individual or in a group, knows how painful and unacceptable it is. This is something we must uproot from society as much as possible,” he added. “I think Israeli society has made progress toward tolerance, and I hope and feel certain that we can make further progress.”
Two were killed in last weekend’s attack on the Tel Aviv LGBT center, which was conducting a support meeting for gay youth. The dead were identified as 26-year-old Nir Katz from Givatayim, who was a counselor at the center, and 17-year-old Liz Trubeshi from Holom, who was attending the LGBT youth support meeting as a straight ally. They were killed when a lone gunman dressed in black and wearing a black mask entered the center and sprayed the meeting room with bullets from an automatic weapon. The gunman then fled on foot. Despite a city-wide manhunt, he has not been found.