Is “tolerance” enough for Tel Aviv? August 8, 2009
Last week saw the tragic shooting of members of Tel Aviv’s gay youth center, bringing on a period of mourning and sympathy throughout Israel. Previous to this tragedy, Tel Aviv had been seen as “the iconic big city into which anybody can integrate, or at least be tolerated.” Since Saturday, orthodox parties and MKs were quick to release statements condemning the murder, despite their disagreements over the gay community’s rights. Where Shas party leader Eli Yishay has referred to gays as “sick,” “perverse,” and “filth” in the past, one of their spokespeople has been quick to condemn the “murderous crime against the gay community.” However, political backtracking to cater to the hurt and mourning of the populace isn’t the same as a change of heart. And unlike what the above quote about Tel Aviv suggests, being “tolerated” isn’t the same as being accepted or supported.
As I see it, there’s an inherent problem when the term “tolerant” is a generous description for a country’s attitude towards its gay citizens. The term “tolerant” has never sat well with me, as some additional definitions of “tolerate” are “to put up with something or somebody unpleasant,” and “to allow.” This presumes that a government has control over homosexuality, with the corollary that with the end of tolerance would cause the end of homosexuality. It also slips in the connotation that there really is something “unpleasant” about homosexuality, which the heterosexual world is putting up with just to be polite. Referred to by Out Magazine as the “gay capital of the Middle East,” one would think Tel Aviv stands for something more than “tolerance” to more people. Also, one would hope that Israeli politicians would agree that calling the Tel Aviv pride parade a “filth parade” isn’t a middling faux pas.
The fact is, the politicized denigration of any group of citizens is always an inhumane way to handle differences of opinion. In a system where “tolerance” of the gay community is considered adequate (and there are even mixed messages about that), how will anyone be motivated to reevaluate their dogmas? It is not the fault of the Knesset that an unknown gunman murdered two gay civilizians, and surely the Shas’ denunciation of the hate crime is sincere. However, politicians would do well to discuss their opinions humanely and respectfully on the national stage, and set an example of fair and supportive discourse for citizens to follow. The gay community in Israel needs true support in its time of mourning and thereafter, not political fronting.