Israeli police say an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on Thursday stabbed six people who were taking part in a Pride march in Jerusalem.
Yishai Shlissel allegedly attacked participants about half way through the march that took place in a secular neighborhood of Jerusalem. Reports indicate that Shlissel stabbed marchers in the back with a butcher’s knife as they tried to run away from him.
Tom Canning, director of development of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, which organized the march, told the Washington Blade on Skype several hours after the attack that he and two friends were marching in the parade when they heard people screaming behind them.
“We saw the crowd disbursing and people running forward towards us,” said Canning. “I saw the stabber…I saw him running, trying to stab people. I saw him looking at me. I ran away and then he was pushed to the ground by police and protesters.”
Canning told the Blade he returned to where the attack took place to find his friends and saw people lying on the ground “covered in blood.” He said a 16-year-old girl who participates in Jerusalem Open House’s youth group remains “in a very bad state.”
“You can imagine how the youth feel,” said Canning. “Their friend has been stabbed.”
Canning told the Blade the executive director of his organization was in “shock” after the attack, but they decided to allow the march to continue once paramedics transported the injured to local hospitals.
“There was no way we were going to let him stop us,” Canning told the Blade. “Rather than having a happy Pride…we had a protest rally. And people came and made speeches and we talked about the issues of Jerusalem and how things have been neglected here.”
Suspect convicted of 2005 attack, released from prison this month
An Israeli court convicted Shlissel of attempted murder and aggravated assault in connection with the stabbing of three people during a 2005 Pride march in Jerusalem. He was released from prison less than a month ago after serving a 10-year sentence.
“It was the same exact person who did it 10 years ago,” said Canning.
Canning told the Blade during a separate interview before the stabbing that hundreds of police officers were to have been stationed along the march route.
He said the many of the officers at the time of the attack were gathered near a protest against the march that Lehava, a right-wing Jewish organization had organized. Canning told the Blade that he had even heard a rumor that Shlissel had planned to attack the Pride march.
“I thought that this couldn’t happen,” said Canning. “We’ve been suffering incitement and verbal abuse from our surroundings and society and even the [Jerusalem] City Council. We kind of lived with it and thought it was the reality, but obviously that’s not the case. People act on these things and this was an example of it today.”
Canning added that Shlissel “should have been sitting in a police station as the march was happening.”
“I was very complimentary of the police,” Canning told the Blade. “I can’t complain. They were very helpful, but obviously they missed something very, very serious. This was a hate crime that could have been prevented.”
Netanyahu, Jerusalem mayor condemn attack
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those who quickly condemned the attack.
“Justice will be dealt to whoever was responsible for this act,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “In the state of Israel the individual’s freedom is a basic value. It is up to us to make sure that every man and woman can live in safety at all times. This is how we work and this is how we will continue to do things. I wish a speedy recovery to all those injured.”
“The atrocious act tonight in Jerusalem is an attempt to hurt the quality of life in the city and to prevent the basic right of freedom of expression,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “In Jerusalem there is a place for everyone and we will continue to fight, together with the police, everyone who tries to hurt another with violence. We have place for everyone and for freedom of expression and we staunchly support all our communities.”
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler also condemned the attack. National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman told the Blade the incident left her “horrified and very saddened.”
The Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center also condemned the attack.
“The DCJCC condemns this act of hatred and aggression against the LGBT community and its allies and supporters — and all who stand for inclusion,” it said in a statement.
More than 2,000 people gathered in Jerusalem’s Zion Square after the attack in what Canning described as a spontaneous “protest of support” of the city’s LGBT community. He said people were still “sitting, talking, crying” outside his office at 1:30 a.m. on Friday local time when he spoke with the Blade.
“No one’s going to sleep,” said Canning.
Thursday’s attack took place nearly six years to the day after a shooting at a Tel Aviv LGBT community center left two people dead and 11 others injured.
Nearly 200,000 people took part in the city’s annual Pride parade last month that highlighted transgender rights in Israel. The country’s Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that officials cannot prevent similar events from taking place in Jerusalem.
Canning told the Blade that he welcomes Barkat’s condemnation of the attack, but noted the official has never visited Jerusalem Open House. Canning added he hopes Barkat and others who spoke out against the stabbing attend a pro-LGBT rally that is expected to take place in Jerusalem in the coming days.
“I’m hoping that all those leaders and politicians who are making statements now will come and physically make an appearance and show their support, not just in slogans,” said Canning.