Homophobia in the ultra-Orthodox community is primarily expressed through silence — it simply isn’t discussed. After a haredi man stabbed six people at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, that silence may have been tragically broken.
By Eli Bitan
In the summer of 2006 I first learned about gays, lesbians and the LGBT community, concepts that until then, as a 15-year-old haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva student, I was completely unfamiliar with. The haredi community made a colossal mistake that summer by launching a struggle against the international Pride Parade scheduled to take place in Jerusalem that year. The result was catastrophic for haredis in Israel: within the span of a few weeks, every haredi child learned what LGBT and Pride were, and what it means to come out of the closet. It was possibly Israel’s most successful LGBT campaign ever.
To their credit, within a month the haredis understood their mistake and decreed thunderous silence on the entire issue. The trauma is still seared into the flesh of the haredi community — almost 10 years have passed and the silence still prevails. There is no struggle, there are no condemnations, no campaigns against the LGBT community or its various parades. The reason: there is a deep understanding that struggle begets exposure, and the haredi community will do anything and everything to prevent exposure.
The haredi community in Israel is comprised of nearly 900,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in concentrated and insular neighborhoods and communities. It is characterized as ultra-Orthodox and in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, it controls both the United Torah Judaism and Shas political parties.
The murder of Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Pride Parade last week was met with astonishment on the haredi street. The last time Yishai Schlissel stabbed people at the same Pride Parade in 2005, the entire story went over the heads of most haredis — haredi news outlets didn’t cover the stabbings and Schlissel was labeled a crazy person. Actually, Israeli society as a whole did the same, and the public discourse did not cast blame on the community from which the stabber came.
This time is different. Maybe it’s the influence of social media on the public agenda, and perhaps it s a reflection of the years since then in which LGBT rights have gone mainstream in Israel (remember that in 2005 even Shimon Peres opposed holding the Pride Parade...Read More