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ISRAEL: Gay pride parade in Jerusalem

June 26, 2008 | 11:19 pm

Members of Jerusalem's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community and their supporters marched in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, and ultra-Orthodox Jews staged a protest from a safe distance in what has become an annual test of strength.

Jerusalempride The gay community sees itself as deprived of full recognition, equality and rights. Ultra-Orthodox Jews reject homosexuality as depravity.

Posters signed by critical rabbinical authorities, sanctimonious eye-rolling on both sides, the inevitable petition to the supreme court, as well as the expected ruling in favor — everyone knows the drill.

In part, the gay issue taps into existing tensions in Israel between religious and secular and right- vs. left-wing politics, and the whole thing is often perceived as a package deal. Not surprisingly, protesters against the parade included Itamar Ben-Gvir, a career activist whose name is in the notebook of any reporter who ever covered a right-wing demonstration in Israel.

Last year, the city suffered $100,000 in damages after thousands of religious protesters rioted, breaking street lamps, road signs and traffic lights and setting garbage dumpsters ablaze. A protester had stabbed several participants a few years ago and hugely disproportionate numbers of police had been deployed.

This year, tensions were lower. A religious demonstration called last week had a poor turnout, explained by some as reluctance to give the parade any free publicity.

Photo: Israeli participants hold up the multicolored Gay Pride flag and the national flag during the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. Credit: Gali Tibbon / AFP/Getty Images

Jerusalem's Open House for Pride and Tolerance executive director, Yonatan Gher, attributed the relative quiet to a lot of hard work and behind-the-scenes contacts. "This is the first time Jerusalem is calm on the morning of the gay pride parade," he told Israel radio Thursday morning, adding that when community members greet each other with a "chag sameach," a happy holiday, they finally will be reflecting reality rather than expressing a wish. The Open House won an award in Brazil this year for operating a gay organization in spite of social opposition.

Several legislative attempts to protect Jerusalem from "religiously insensitive" events have been made. Why can the city protect a 120-year-old building but not a tradition of thousands of years, religious lawmakers ask.

Saar Netanel, Jerusalem city council member and one of the city's gay community leaders, explained that the Jerusalem parade is very different from its more provocative and extroverted Tel-Aviv counterpart. It is "simply a demonstration in favor of tolerance and for all people, whether religious, secular, gay, straight, Palestinian" or whatever.

But why in Jerusalem? Isn't this city complicated enough, ask many people, including supporters. Why not, Netanel answers. "Jerusalem is the capital, home to the institutions entrusted with ensuring democracy...if we can't hold such a parade in Jerusalem, what does it say about us and Israeli society?"

Gays cannot marry in Israel but legal precedents have been set for registering gay couples wed abroad, as well as on a range of issues including adoption, inheritance, pre-nuptial agreements and child support. The organization New Family estimates about 18,000 same-sex households are in Israel.

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.