Nearly four years ago, on August 1, 2009, a horrific shooting at the Bar Noar LGBTQ youth center in Tel Aviv injured dozens of teens and killed 27 year old youth counselor Nir Katz and 16-year-old Liz Trubishi. The tragic event struck fear in the LGBT community and deeply shook LGBT people and straight allies worldwide.
Last week’s arrests of the shooting suspects may bring some closure to the unsolved crime, and justice to the perpetrators, but it is unlikely to bring peace to the families of the dead, to the two teenagers still wheelchair-bound, and to the young activists who suffered profound trauma in a place that was created to be a safe and nurturing space. What is certain to inflict further pain on the brave young members of the community and their supporters, is the denial that this brutal crime was an act of hateful violence on the LGBT community.
Bizarrely, police have declared that the shooting was not a hate crime, because the motivation seems to have been personal: the alleged shooter and his accomplices claim to have acted after learning that a leader in the gay community had allegedly sexually assaulted a teenage relative. If indeed the shooter and his accomplices were driven out of a sense of familial retribution, it does not erase the fact that they retaliated against a whole community. This “avenger” shot indiscriminately into a room full of young people, targeting the gay youth center because the object of his revenge (who was not present at the time of the shooting) was also gay. How is this not a hate crime?
If a white man attacked an African American community center or church out of retribution for a crime that one African American committed, would we not consider that a hate crime? If a Muslim shot indiscriminately at a Jewish youth center, sparked by an “honor” violation or a loved one who had been killed in the conflict, would we not cry out “terrorism,” calling that a hate crime?
The police should continue to do the diligence of their four-year investigation, which we pray will bring the perpetrators to justice. Certainly the Israeli LGBT community has its work to do, as it struggles to come to terms with the heartbreaking allegations that one of its own leaders, who was arrested last week in connection with the crime, sexually abused a vulnerable teen seeking guidance and hindered the investigation. All the while, the whole community has lived in the fearful shadow of the unsolved shooting. They must embark on a difficult path of healing and repair from this profound betrayal in the wake of this still unfolding tragedy.
But let us not commit another injustice by denying the reality of this crime. Exacting retribution on the gay community because of a personal conflict with one gay person IS a hate crime. Shooting a room full of terrorized LGBT teenagers to punish one gay person IS a hate crime. In this season of LGBT pride, a celebration of honesty and bravery, let us call upon the Tel Aviv police to reconsider their determination of the shooting, to honestly assess this painful incident, and charge the accused perpetrators for all of their crimes.
Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen is vice-chair of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and author of the forthcoming CBST: the First Forty Years.