Nearly 1,000 people marched in Tel Aviv Sunday night to denounce violence against Israel’s transgender community, in the wake of a suspected hate crime outside a local LGBT center that left a teenager seriously wounded.
Under the banner “fighting for our lives,” marchers walked from the Florentine neighborhood to Rothschild Boulevard, where LGBT and transgender activists addressed the crowd.
The rally was attended by Blue and White MKs Eitan Ginzburg and Idan Roll, who said the centrist party was committed to stamping out violence against the LGBT community.
“Blue and White is dedicated to promoting LGBT rights, increased punishments for hate crimes, and taking transgender violence seriously,” the party said in a statement.
The lawmakers condemned the political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party for expressing support for “dangerous” conversion therapy and other controversial anti-gay initiatives.
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The march comes after 16-year-old from the Arab city of Tamra was stabbed Friday afternoon by his brother outside Tel Aviv’s Beit Dror house, where he had moved to escape family pressures to adopt a religious lifestyle.
According to Beit Dror staff, the teenager identified the assailant as his brother before he collapsed to the ground. Police launched a manhunt for the suspect, though as of Sunday, no arrests had been made.
The victim, who was not been named, was upgraded to moderate condition after undergoing surgery at Ichilov hospital.
Etai Pinkas-Arad, who holds the LGBT portfolio at the Tel Aviv Municipality, told the Kan public broadcaster at Sunday’s march that the stabbing at Beit Dror was linked to inflammatory rhetoric against Israel’s gay community.
“When the country is full of inciting billboards, when our religious leaders are willing to sacrifice our blood, and the education minister wants to convert us, then some people are hearing that message and are taking action,” he said.
Earlier this month, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, came under widespread criticism after he came out in favor of “conversion therapy,” a controversial technique that seeks to turn gays into heterosexuals.
Peretz later retracted his remarks.
“The ongoing incitement against the gay community has a direct connection to the increased violence against us,” Pinkas-Arad said.
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, Israel’s first ever openly gay party head, also attended the solidarity march.
“The fact that an attack like this occurred at a place that is supposed to be a safehouse for youths from the gay community demonstrates the depth of the danger,” he said.
Friday’s stabbing was roundly condemned as a hate crime by Arab lawmakers.
“We can’t accept any type of violence in our society, definitely not hate crimes,” Hadash party leader Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter. “The struggle against violence and crime in our society is an emergency situation and is our top priority.”
Like Odeh, other Arab lawmakers linked the stabbing to general violence among Arab Israelis, but explicitly denounced attacks against the LGBT community.
“This shocking incident exposed that gender violence within the family, sometimes murderous, which is generally directed at women, is also directed at LGBT youth who wish to live in liberty,” Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman tweeted.
In recent years, Israel has turned into one of the most gay-friendly travel destinations in the world, with the Tel Aviv pride parade attracting crowds of more than 200,000 people. In Israel, homosexuals serve openly in the military and in the Knesset and many popular artists and entertainers are openly gay.
While Netanyahu likes to boast about Israel’s broad acceptance of gays, he has been criticized by LGBT activists for homophobic comments by Peretz and other members of his coalition, which is dominated by religious and conservative politicians. Last year he was also criticized for voting against surrogacy for gay fathers, presumably under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
In February, the LGBT rights organization Aguda released a report finding a 54 percent jump in the number of reported homophobic incidents in 2018 over the previous year.