Monday, August 03, 2009

Was it a Hate Crime?

Last Saturday night - Motzoei Shabbos - a homosexual establishment in Tel Aviv was attacked by a gunman. Two people were murdered and 15 wounded. He then fled the scene. Police are currently on a manhunt for him.

No one yet knows who he is or where he came from. Nor is there any indication of motive. But that hasn’t stopped the speculation from flying. And much of the speculation runs toward this being a hate crime.

There is however no way of knowing that. This could have been the result of any number of reasons none of which had anything to do with hate.

But when it comes to hate crimes like this, the immediate thought goes to the religious community. They are seen as the natural enemy of the homosexual. They are seen as the ones with the motive for carrying out this kind of crime. And when I say religious, I don’t just mean Charedi. I mean religious people of all stripes including non Jews.

This is an understandable if incorrect assumption. Most mainstream religions see the homosexual act as not only a sin but an abomination. The Torah clearly says so: ‘a man shall not lie (with another man) as he lies with a woman - it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18:22).

Unfortunately this has led to some really nasty attitudes about homosexuals. None of which is justified. As I have written many times, it is the behavior that is to be condemned not the individual who is predisposed to it.

It is also very clear to even the most rabid homophobe who is religious that murder is not an option. Murder is murder by any standard. Especially the Torah standard. So speculation that this was some sort of hate crime by any religious Jew is premature. Even if gunman is captured and found to be an otherwise religious Jew, it would make him a very sick religious Jew. And as I said - it is far from certain that the murderer is in any way religious.

The Charedi media therefore takes rightful umbrage at those who might be insinuating that the gunman must be from their ranks. This is apparently the discussion going on in the Charedi blogosphere. The chat there is that the homosexual community unfairly blames the murder on Charedi incitement. And indeed they do. From the Jerusalem Post:

Sources in the gay community have placed some of the blame for the attack on Shas, the Sephardi haredi party, whose members have made disparaging remarks about homosexuals in the past. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai and Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev, who have made headlines in recent years for their verbal attacks on homosexuals, were singled out for special criticism.

So it is understandable that some of their anger is directed toward the religious Shas members.

One can understand the repugnance many heterosexuals feel toward homosexual behavior. But it is unfair to judge homosexuals from that perspective. One must first walk a mile in another’s shoes before judging them.

Whether it is a genetic component that predisposes ones sexual orientation or an environmental one - one thing seems certain. That orientation is usually established long before one is even aware of it. To the person who is attracted to the same sex it is far from repugnant.

We should not therefore condemn the Taavah of same sex attraction. We ought to try instead to be compassionate and understanding. This does not mean we should permit acting on it of course. The Torah does consider it a serious sin. But one should look at the sin and not the sinner. One must have compassion, understanding, and respect for other human beings regardless of their sexual orientation. For who among us has not been tempted to sin in one way or another - and even succumbed? It is in the resistance to temptation that we are tested and rewarded.

I have no easy answers for homosexuals. I can’t approve of a lifestyle that the Torah disapproves of. But what I can do is respect their human dignity and realize that we have no right to hate them or incite violence toward them. And when they are attacked by haters - we must stand in solidarity with their essential humanity as victims of hate no less than any other victim of hate.

So even if the gunman who murdered these two Jews is not found to stem from among the religious – it does not excuse the kind of rhetoric that comes out of some religious circles. That helps no one. It just creates bad feelings and contributes to a climate of hate that may have contributed to this murder.

To that end I must say that the attitude of Hamodia as quoted in the Jerusalem Post is disappointing if not surprising. This would have been a golden opportunity to address the issue in a positive and compassionate way. Instead they chose to ignore the incident because they don’t want their children asking questions. This is understandable but in the end – unhelpful. In my view it contributes to the homophobic and hateful attitude in communities like these. Wouldn’t it have been better to use this opportunity to teach tolerance – not of the sin but of the sinner - rather than allow fear, disgust, and hatred to prevail?