The Tragic Paradox of Tel Aviv

COMMENTARY: James Kirchick says last week's shooting at a gay youth center in Tel Aviv could have only happened in Israel ... because it's the only place in the Middle East where gay people can meet in the open.



At a Washington vigil held last Monday evening to mourn the victims of the Tel Aviv gay youth center shooting, an official from the Israeli embassy made a keen observation. It was a "tragic paradox," he said, for "this crime could only take place in Israel out of all the countries in the Middle East because there's nowhere else in the Middle East where there could be a meeting house for gay young people, which is open and which everybody knows its address."

That Israel is the only country in the region where homosexuality is not illegal will come as cold comfort to the victims, their families, and the country's gays, who are rightly outraged that an individual would shoot up a meeting place for gay youths. Testaments to the vibrancy and openness of Israeli gay life means nothing when two young people lie dead, nearly a dozen are injured, and an entire community is in shock.

But if there is anything positive to be gleaned from this horrific incident, it has been the reaction of the Jewish state's citizens. The country's newspapers have published countless articles about the status of gay people in Israeli society and the persistent problem of homophobia. Even the country's ultrareligious figures -- perhaps cognizant of how their own teachings may have created an environment in which such an attack could take place -- have condemned the murders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, derided by so many critics of Israel as a far-right warmonger, immediately visited the gay center and pledged that his government would find the killer. "I say to the Israeli people: We are a democratic country, we are a country of tolerance, a country of laws, and we must respect every person, whoever and wherever he is," he said.

Tags: Commentary