Back in 2015, Sky News presenter Adam Boulton interviewed the Chief Rabbi. They were discussing the significance of the liberation of Auschwitz in light of the murders at a kosher supermarket in Paris. As they did so, viewers watched a video of Palestinians in the rubble of Gaza during the summer war, under the headline: “Auschwitz remembered”. The implication was clear – where there are Jewish victims, their death will have always have a geopolitical context.
Last night, again on Sky News, viewers were treated to a similar display of disregard for a community that had been attacked for simply being.
As LGBT communities grieved over the homophobic terrorist atrocity in Orlando, the conversation on the Sky News ‘Paper Review’ descended into a farce, in which the situation was being spoken of as if it was something other than a grievous homophobic attack. The only LGBT individual on the panel, Owen Jones, stormed off the set in both disgust and hurt. Who could possibly blame him?
There are undoubtedly other factors at play in the Orlando massacre – not least the U.S.A’s gun laws, and that the perpetrator apparently pledged his allegiance to Islamic State before the attack. However, with the impact of the incident still so raw, it should have been obvious that Sky’s duty was to outline the fundamental fact of the case, which is as follows:
An individual who hated the existence of gay people took it upon himself to enter a hugely popular gay nightclub and shot the gay people inside. Not at random, not selectively. Every victim in that club was a victim of a homophobic murder. Simple.
Any inference that this was anything other than an act of egregious homophobia will understandably offend the LGBT community. When victims are victims for simply because they were born differently to others, even the slightest obfuscation over premeditated motives must be rejected. When a specific minority group is attacked, phraseology designed for mass appeal, such as “it could have been anyone”, or the increasingly common refrain of “all lives matter”, are wholly wrong.
Imagine suffering a personal bereavement and being ‘consoled’ by someone you don’t know who says, “loads of other people are dying, the grief you feel is part of a collective sadness, and we’re all suffering today”. Though strictly speaking, they could be forgiven for trying to relate to your grief, the remarks would be seen as grossly insensitive.
Given our own experience of this insensitivity, the Jewish community must strive to be the loudest and surest of allies when this happens to other groups. Personally speaking, I cannot bear it when the murder of Jews invokes broader political debate, rather than plain outrage at the barbaric acts at hand. We cannot accept it when this is done to LGBT folk, Muslims, Black victims, whoever.
Shavuot is nearly over, and our community leaders will soon return to work. When they do so, I am sure that they will extend their deepest condolences to the LGBT community in Orlando. I am sure that they will send out messages of compassion, of unity, of sympathies, of prayers and well wishes.
However, I hope that they do more. I hope they do not waste another moment to tell LGBT Jews and non-Jews worldwide that we will support the fight against LGBT discrimination wherever and whenever we are needed. I hope that these horrors mark a period of introspection, not least in my own denomination of orthodoxy. I hope we can strive for greater LGBT representation in the formal structures of our community. I hope we can move from an archaic sentiment of “compassion and tolerance” to total “inclusion and acceptance” of LGBT people.
I fear that if we only commit to hollow gestures of sympathy, we betray the values of our faith. I fear that if we do not adequately face up to the enormity of what has happened to LGBT people this week, we render ourselves hypocrites when we next demand that Jewish victims are treated first and foremost as Jewish victims. To allow such a situation would be intolerable, we must not allow it to come to pass.