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ISRAEL: Jerusalem Pride will march to parliament for equality

July 28, 2010 | 10:27 pm

The annual Jerusalem Pride march is taking to the streets of Jerusalem on Thursday and taking the community's demand for rights downtown and up to the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

 In past years, intense controversy surrounding the yearly event, counterdemonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews and fear of violence have led the police to steer the march from central locations and confine the big final rally to a stadium. In 2005,  a young religious man stabbed three participants.

This year, the organizers requested permission for the march to begin at Gan Haatzmaut, or Independence Park, across from the American Consulate downtown, and conclude at the Rose Garden outside Israel's parliament.  The police ultimately approved the planned route.

Pride events were held in various locations throughout Israel in June. This year's Jerusalem event was postponed by a few weeks to coincide with the first anniversary of the deadly attack on an open house for gay youth last summer in Tel Aviv. An unknown gunman walked into a low-key but well-known gay youth club and sprayed the place with bullets, moving from one room to the next in the ground-floor apartment that served as the venue. Two young people -- a youth counselor and a teenage girl -- were killed; many others injured. The assailant hasn't been caught.


Maybe for this reason, the usual resistance to the parade in the holy city was relatively low this year. For a change, the issue didn't even make it to the Supreme Court. The Jerusalem Open House held advance talks with ultra-Orthodox leaders, explaining that they weren't marching for provocation but for commemoration and their rights, said director Yonatan Gher on the radio Wednesday. Interests converged this year to achieve a balance, said Gher; the other side wants the event to have low visibility.

This year's march commemorates last year's attack, but it's not only about denouncing violence. The time has come for a comprehensive discussion of gay rights, said Gher, explaining the reason for the event.

"There are 700 points in Israeli law that discriminate against the gay community and we will ask members of Knesset to start working to change this," he said.

Tel Aviv recently launched "Tel Aviv Gay Vibe," a tourism campaign marketing the city as a happening, gay-friendly tourist destination. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is a different story.  Mina Fenton, a former City Council member, wrote the mayor to lament the route of the march, which includes Ramban street. The Ramban -- the Hebrew acronym for the 13th century Torah luminary and scholar also known as Nahmanides --  is turning over in his grave at the sight of the abomination, she wrote. The march is also scheduled to pass streets named after Gershon Agron and Arthur Ruppin.

And then there are the donkeys.

One of Jerusalem's deputy mayors, Yitzhak Pindrus, has asked police for a permit to hold a donkey parade. "This is a democratic state -- we will not accept the claim that donkeys have no right to march. There are donkeys who are proud of their donkeyness and want to have a parade," he told Ynetnews. He said this represented what many people think, that homosexuality is "a beastly act." Similar gimmicks have been used before. This year, a compromise was reached. The protesters will be allowed to march --  but with cardboard donkeys.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem. 

Top: "Why it's important to have a gay community in Jerusalem". Credit: Youtube

Bottom: Signs outside the site of the Tel Aviv shooting last year read, from left, "Love, not hate" and "Homophobia equals disease, we're here to help you recover." Credit: Batsheva Sobelman / Los Angeles Times