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.

BY James Kirchick

August 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

SHIMON PERES XLRG (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Israeli president Shimon Peres declared that the slaying was "a murder that a cultured and enlightened people cannot accept."

Contrast this shamed reaction of Israeli public officials and society with the behavior of Israel's neighbors. Throughout the Middle East, it is usually the governments themselves that are committing the violence against their own gay citizens.

In 2001, Egypt arrested 51 men aboard a gay cruise ship and subjected them to a show trial in which their faces were displayed on national television. Iran executes gays, whose existence its president denies. In Saudi Arabia the punishment for homosexuality is decapitation. Those who believe the United States is "biased" toward Israel and should be more "evenhanded" in its approach to diplomacy in the region should at last recognize that the primary reason for our historic support of Israel is a set of common liberal values, values which Israel's neighbors simply do not share.

Two years ago I marched in the Jerusalem gay pride parade, an event that had been marked in years past by bomb threats and violence. The parade lacks the bacchanalian atmosphere of most gay pride events. There are no men in underwear or Dykes on Bikes; the organizers are respectful of the city's gravity and respect its significance to the world's three major religions. Protesters lined the short route holding signs bearing passages from Leviticus and shouted imprecations about how we were "disturbed." The Jerusalem Pride Parade serves the unique, ecumenical function of uniting fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims, providing them with a common target.

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