Except in Israel.
Police, amazingly were quick to dismiss any suggestion that it was a terrorist attack. As Haaretz had it in an early report, "Israel Police said that the incident at the club on Nahmani Street did not have a terror motive." The line was later edited out of the story, but subsequent stories, like one in The Times, reflect an even stranger attempt on Israeli authorities' part to downplay any hint of incendiary motives behind the murders: "Tel Aviv police chief Shachar Ayalon stopped short of branding the shooting a hate crime remarks to reporters."
Translation: Arabs were not the attackers. An Israeli was, possibly a follower of one of the extreme-right Orthodox-Jewish parties that bash gays.
That's how prejudicial the language of terrorism has become in Israel. An attack on a gay and lesbian community center in every way designed to terrorize, and is by most reasonable definitions a terrorist act (as it was when, say, Matthew Shephard was murdered in Wyoming or when countless blacks were lynched and murdered in pre-civil rights America), is mitigated, domesticated, neutered. Terrorism applies only to Arabs. Never to Israelis.
Why would a police spokesman call the murders "criminal, rather than nationalistic," if not to telegraph a perverse kind of reassurance to the Israeli public that Palestinians aren't suddenly roaming the streets in search of alternative prey? After all, hadn't the Palestinians' al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened retaliation for Sasha Baron Cohen's interview of an al-Aqsa "terrorist" for his flamingly gay "Bruno" movie?
Authorities aren't necessarily wrong to make certain distinctions. When a plane goes down, people immediately want to know: terrorism or malfunction? It doesn't make a difference to the dead. It makes a difference to the living. And there is a difference.
But what, precisely, is the difference between terrorism and a hate crime? What has the absence of nationalistic motives got to do with it when the intent is at heart to terrorize and degrade a group of people for who they are? For that matter, how different is that from the systematic denigration and frequent terrorizing of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli occupation?
Politics alone doesn't define terrorism. Nor does nationalism. A terrorist attack took place. Then a different sort of attack took place after that, an attack Arabs and Jews will recognize immediately for its terrible routine: The qualifications of the attack as a mere "crime" have an undercurrent of prejudice, even of hate, with Palestinians as target.
In sum, two hate crimes took place in Tel Aviv Saturday night. One (the murders) was unusual. The other is routine.