On the eve of Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride parade, Israel was reeling from the recent developments in the case of a 2009 gay youth club shooting that left police puzzled for years.
Three men were arrested in connection to the shooting that claimed two lives and injured several others, police announced Wednesday, and a fourth suspect was also later detained and held for questioning. Police imposed a gag order on the identity of all of the suspects and details of the suspected motive for the attack.
The fourth suspect was described by police as “a prominent member of the gay and lesbian community” who is suspected of withholding information in connection to the case, but is not thought by authorities to have been involved directly in the shooting. The man is “a key figure” in solving the case, which police now think was motivated by reasons of personal revenge, not anti-gay sentiment, adding that the police suspect him of sexual offenses.
Channel 2 News showed footage of the police making one of the arrests Wednesday. Plain-clothed police officers pulled the driver, thought to have been directly involved in the murder, out of his truck in downtown Bnei Brak midday Wednesday, to which he responded by shouting profanities at them.
Shai Deutsch, a prominent gay activist in Tel Aviv, said the arrests raised questions among the LGBT community. “I think the developments are stirring a mix of emotions within us,” he said in an interview with Channel 2. “We’re happy that we’re getting answers, yet it’s sad because we’re confused about what happened, and we’re reliving the pain again.”
Some Israelis journalists raised questions about the timing of the arrests — two days before Tel Aviv was set to celebrate its annual Gay Pride parade, which could draw upwards of 120,000 attendees — and dismissed the idea that the murder wasn’t a hate crime.
Gal Uchovsky, a gay-culture journalist, wrote on the Channel 2 News website that an incident in which an individual walks into a gay youth center and shoots people is still a hate crime, even if his motives were personal. Uchovsky wrote that it was “conspicuous” that police made the arrest in the middle of Gay Pride week and that they were trying to portray the shooting as a personal vendetta and not a hate crime. “I call this a stain on the gay community,” he wrote.
Another journalist, Danny Zack, complained that the police were being too lax because they believed “it wasn’t a Palestinian terrorist or an Orthodox Jew” who committed the crime, meaning it didn’t have a nationalistic motivation, he wrote on the Channel 2 News website.
Activists familiar with the identity of the fourth man told Ynet news they were shocked that he was a suspect in the case. “He was a father figure to us,” one of the activists said, explaining that the man had arrived at the center shortly after the shooting to try to help, and that he expressed concern that the shooter would be let off the hook by pleading insanity.
“If it was really him,” another activist said, “he must have been suicidal.” The suspect was a volunteer at the center who supported many of the youths, he said, and has a large heart.
The suspect’s lawyer said Thursday that his client was innocent of any connection with the affair, and was a “normal, responsible adult with no criminal record” who had been turned into “another victim of this difficult case.”
The lawyer added that his client was not in the venue at the time of the attack and stressed that he was not suspected of being in any way involved in the killing.
The three suspects arrested Wednesday, whom police said are Jewish — ruling out the possibility that the shooting was a Palestinian terror attack — were remanded for 11 days.
Channel 2 reported that one of the suspects was a 20-year-old “petty criminal” from Pardes Katz. He would have been 16 at the time of the shooting.
Two of the suspects are related.
On August 1, 2009, a masked man entered the Bar Noar gay youth center on Tel Aviv’s Nahmani street and began shooting. Counselor Nir Katz, 26, and 16-year-old Liz Trubeshi were killed and dozens were injured. Approximately 40 people were present at the center that night.
The case has been one of the most expensive investigations carried out in recent years and more than 1,000 people have been questioned in connection with the shootings, Haaretz reported.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.