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Reflections on the One-Year Anniversary of Shira Banki's Death

Reflections on the One-Year Anniversary of Shira Banki's Death

With Jerusalem's annual Pride March only two days away, I'd like to share with you an article I wrote, titled "Pride and Prejudice," that was published today in Israel's newspaper, Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today).

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In the last few days, the LGBTQ community has been under attack from various groups in Israel. On the eve of the Jerusalem Pride March, which will be held in honor of Shira Banki, z"l, who was murdered a year ago today in last year’s pride march, the mood in the LGBTQ community is extremely grave. While the Israeli public discourse regarding the LGBTQ community has undergone an accelerated transformation in the last few years, rabbis and Orthodox public officials are allowing themselves to speak against the community in the guise of religion, and to support discrimination against it in the name of Judaism.

Marches in cities other than Tel Aviv: in Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, and Ashdod, are human rights protests and personal opportunities for tikkun. As members of the LGBTQ community, we are usually raised in straight families without encountering or getting to know gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans people. We consume negative stereotypes about the community, and we conclude from the silence around homosexuality that it is a shameful thing. We clear a path for ourselves out of the closet, usually with great fear and loneliness, feeling that there’s something wrong with us. Officials at the very heart of the establishment are permitted to fervently denounce our very existence. The marches give us an opportunity for tikkun: in each march we also hear negative stereotypes being said about us, both before and after it we see attempts to silence us, and here too we come to the march in an atmosphere of fear from possible violence. But we make our way to the end of the march together – as a large community, with our families and supporters. The marches demonstrate what LGBT people learn after years of suffering: that we are more than okay, that we are wonderful, different and diverse, and that the richness that we have to offer as a result of our diversity is the key to a better society.

We have seen great progress in the community’s struggle for equality in the last few decades. However, despite this progress, we are still struggling against to the notion that homophobia clothed in Jewish terms and concepts is legitimate.

Legal discourse recognizes the community’s right to equality based on democratic principles. Medical-psychological discourse, which had previously contributed to discriminating against and demonizing the LGBTQ community, has gradually shifted from classifying homosexuality as a disease to decisively resisting conversion therapy. Cultural representations in public space have become more diverse and have come to include representations of our lives, our loves, our pain and our families. 

But the religious-Orthodox arena remains. Despite some minor advances on the LGBTQ issue, the Jewish religious discourse celebrates discrimination against the LGBTQ community, justifies it and strives to make it a cornerstone of our society.  Only last week we heard Rabbi Karim, the new IDF chief rabbi, call us “ill” and saying that a “Torah war” is being waged against us. Rabbi Levinstein, who heads a pre-army yeshiva in the Eli settlement, called us perverts that are driving the country crazy. No senior public officials would have dared say such things about the LGBT community, but under the protection afforded by Orthodox Judaism, rabbis feel free to openly incite against the community.

The persistence of discriminatory and violent discourse continues to harm and cause suffering to members of the LGBT community, and allows the rest of the public to hold on to and justify homophobic opinions. Homophobic religious discourse justifies homophobia in all other social arenas. It allows the public to continue to see homophobia as legitimate, as Jewish. The anniversary of Shira Banki’s horrific murder, and the Jerusalem Pride March that will be held this week, remind us of the serious danger that this incitement represents. So long as orthodoxy continues to support discrimination and to condemn the LGBT community, it is no wonder that extremists continue to use violence against us.

P.S.: If you'll be in Israel this week, join the Israel Religious Action Center this Thursday in Jerusalem to march in support of LGBTQ equality.

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Noa Sattath
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