Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 38 / 21 September 2017
 

Teen dies after
Jerusalem Pride attack

NEWS


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People sat around candles during a gathering of hundreds of friends, classmates, teachers, members of the LGBT community and supporters in downtown Jerusalem on August 2 to mourn the death of Jerusalem Pride stabbing victim Shira Banki. Photo: AFP/Gali Tibbon
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San Francisco's LGBT Jewish community is mourning following a brutal stabbing attack at Jerusalem Pride that left a teenage girl dead and several others injured.

On July 30, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, Yishai Schlissel, allegedly attacked Jerusalem Pride marchers with a butcher knife, stabbing six people. He critically injured three people while the others sustained non-life threatening injuries.

Ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel.

Schlissel had recently been released from prison following a 10-year prison stint for a 2005 knife attack at Jerusalem Pride that injured three people. Leading up to the assault he had publicly threatened to attack Jerusalem Pride again.

Authorities detained Schlissel and are still investigating the crime, reported Ha'aretz.

Three days after she was stabbed multiple times during the attack, Shira Banki, a straight 16-year-old high school student from Jerusalem, died from her wounds. The community joined her family August 3 at Shiva, a memorial service.

Ha'aretz reported that Banki was an innocent victim who was marching in Jerusalem Pride supporting her LGBT friends.

"Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old – full of life and love – who came to express her support for her friends' rights to live as they choose," said a statement from her family, who requested the public to respect their privacy while they grieve for their loss. "For no good reason and because of evil, stupidity and negligence, the life of our beautiful flower was cut short. Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl."

The Banki family ended their public statement expressing hope for "less hatred and more tolerance."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the Banki family August 2, following his condemnation of the attack three days prior.

"We won't permit the terrible murderer to challenge the basic values on which Israeli society is built," he said in a statement. "We reject with disgust any attempt to impose hatred and violence among us and will bring the murderer to justice. Shira was murdered because she bravely supported the principle that everyone has the right to live their lives respectfully and with security."

Arthur Slepian, founder and executive director of A Wider Bridge, an organization that promotes relationships between LGBT communities in North America and Israel, expressed his condolences for the loss of the young woman.

"It's a really tragic occurrence and our thoughts and our prayers are with her family and her friends," said Slepian, a gay man. "It seems that she was a beautiful young woman with a very big heart and a strong commitment to equality and justice. It's a tragedy that her life was cut short in such an unnecessary way."

In the aftermath of the attack, LGBT leaders in Israel and the U.S. cautiously praised the political and religious leaders who historically have been standoffish for coming forward on behalf of the community and pledging to do what LGBT activists in Jerusalem have been trying to do for years.

LGBT Jewish community members in the Bay Area and Jerusalem have also provided support to the local queer community. Bay Area community leaders have guided supporters to Jerusalem Open House, an LGBT organization, and other groups, they told the Bay Area Reporter. In Israel, JOH leaders tapped psychologists, medical consultants, legal advisers, and other service providers and erected a mourners' tent in Jerusalem's city center to help anyone in need following the attack, said Tom Canning, a JOH spokesman.

Activists are also calling upon Israel's political and religious leaders to do more than express their condolences for Banki's death and condemn the attack on Jerusalem Pride. They are calling for Israel's government to take more concrete actions.

"The only way to prevent the next murder is by entering every school, every medical center, every police department, every military infantry and give seminars on tolerance and acceptance pluralism," said Canning, who hopes the JOH leaderships' recent meetings with the Israel minister of education will finally open the doors.

JOH has LGBT cultural sensitivity programs to educate students to professionals in place, said Canning.

Bay Area LGBT Jewish leaders were critical of Israeli leaders.

"I've seen quotes from Benjamin Netanyahu and [Isaac] "Bushi" Herzog and others but they have to be saying more than just the right thing, they need to do the right thing," said Slepian. "They need to work to create an environment in all of the schools of Israel where students aren't being indoctrinated into homophobia, and that includes the schools that are run by the ultra-Orthodox."

Zionist Union leader Herzog recently lost his campaign for prime minister of Israel to Netanyahu.

"People need to understand that when they are speaking in inflammatory ways and with rhetoric that is really poisonous, they need to know who might be listening to them and that some crazy person out there might get the idea that somehow this kind of violence is OK," said Slepian. "It's definitely not OK."

In spite of recent events, LGBT Jewish leaders in both countries are hopeful that the tragedy will be a turning point for acceptance of the LGBT community and recognition of rights for the community in Israel.

"I would like to be optimistic. I would love to think that might happen and that this might be a turning point but I think time will tell," said Slepian.

"Sometimes we can't underestimate how strong the forces of prejudice and bigotry are and what it takes to overcome them," added Slepian.

Pointing to how tragic events, such as the ongoing shooting massacres in America, haven't effected change in gun laws, Slepian said, "So, I don't know if I would go out on a limb and predict that for Israel."

Julie Dorf, senior adviser at the Council for Global Equality, was harsh in her criticism of Israel's government, where religious extremists have gained more power in recent years, she said.

She pointed not only to the attack on Jerusalem Pride, but also the July 31 burning of a Palestinian family's home in the West Bank, where an 18-month old died.

"This is the government that is responsible," said Dorf, a lesbian who has marched in Jerusalem Pride twice.

She described a government where Jewish extremists that support divisive policies are taking over Israel.

"People with those political ideologies are a part of the government of Israel right now and it is extremely, extremely upsetting to watch this progress in an increasingly bad direction," she said.

"The connection to the political and ideological underpinning of both of those crimes are completely linked whether it's the supposed revenge killing of a Palestinian or the homophobic killing of gay Jews," said Dorf. "These are the same ideologies that are at the heart of this Jewish extremism in Israel."

Slepian agreed.

"People like [Schlissel] don't come out of nowhere. They are produced by the attitudes and the rhetoric of the society that is around them," he said. "We need to do a lot more to create a city and a society where people like that don't somehow decide that they are acting on behalf of God or some moral way when they commit these kinds of heinous acts of violence."

To help push for change, LGBT leaders in Jerusalem are calling upon LGBT Americans and allies to exert pressure on Israel's elected officials at all levels to follow through on promises being made to the LGBT community, such as amending the anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Members of Knesset voted down a bill that would include LGBT protections in the law last month.

"There are many people in the Jewish community who have the ears of the Israeli leadership," said Canning. "We are asking them to use their influence."

In the meantime, Jerusalem's LGBT activists will continue to take care of the community and stay on top of Israel's leaders while planning for next year's Pride march.

 

To help support Jerusalem's LGBT community, donations can be made to Jerusalem Open House at https://secured.israelgives.org/Custom/JerusalemOpenHouse/cart.

Political leaders can be contacted: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, email via http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/Pages/ContactUs.aspx; President Reuven Rivlin, email via http://www.president.gov.il/English/About/Departments/Pages/ContactUS.aspx or public@president.gov.il; Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, email via http://www1.jerusalem.muni.il/jer_sys/residentsRequests/defaultEng.asp?Type_complaint=100&cont=37 or call the Jerusalem Municipality Operator: 011-972-02-6296666 or 011-972-6297777.

 

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or oitwnews@gmail.com.

 






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