A record-breaking 100,000 people from Israel and abroad took part in the annual Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade Friday, which took place as planned despite the arrests made earlier in the week in connection to the 2009 shooting at the LGBT youth center Bar Noar.
Thousands of people crammed into Gan Meir park in central Tel Aviv as the festivities got under way with a community "happening," complete with music performances, stalls representing local organizations and speeches from public figures such as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On.
Despite the festive atmosphere not all of the speakers were given a warm welcome. When Lapid, who was the first high-ranking politician to speak, took the podium, he was unable to begin his speech and was met with booing and heckling from the crowd.
Audience members chanted "There is no future with Lapid and Bibi," in a reference to Lapid's party name, Yesh Atid, that means "There is a future." Lapid stood in silence on the stage waiting for the chanting crowd to allow him to speak. Event organizers pleaded with some of the hecklers to allow the politician to speak.
Eventually Lapid broke his silence and stated that "No screams and jeers will stop me from supporting the LGBT community."
Once Lapid was able to begin his speech, the crowd became more responsive. Lapid said he came to the parade to talk about "the rights of gay people to marry and adopt children," adding that he was proud of the Israeli gay community and that the community should take pride in itself.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who was the first ever official representative from the Likud party to speak at the Pride event, was also booed when she took to the stage. "I came here today with love and pride, and I expect you to accept it," she told the heckling crowd.
"I will continue with my love and pride even if there will be some shouting, and I am proud of the Likud's gay pride group," she continued. "You ought to want a group like that in all of the political factions, and not come here to spew hate."
Livnat praised the LGBT community and its ability to overcome hardships and difficulties to reach great achievements.
"Can anyone imagine the Israeli culture without you? Listening to the radio, poetry, literature, cinema and theater?" the culture minister said.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, however, was met with approval and cheers when she disputed police claims that the 2009 shooting at the LGBT youth center Bar Noar was not a hate crime.
Livni also addressed the issue. "If this isn’t a hate crime, tell me what it is," she said. The justice minister also thanked the LGBT community for supporting her over the years.
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich, who also received a warm welcome, said it is time to demand the government act for the LGBT community and not just make promises.
"It is time to make real demands of the state, primarily allowing gay marriage," she said.
Labor is promoting a gay marriage bill, and Yacimovich asked the crowd to demand that all of the politicians on stage vote in favor of the proposal.
"I am proud that Tel Aviv is the most gay-friendly city in the world," Mayor Huldai said, as he took the stage. Huldai is facing an election later this year, running against the popular openly-gay Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz for the mayor's seat.
Even US Ambassador Dan Shapiro put in an appearance, wearing a Pride t-shirt for the occasion, telling the crowd that US President Barack Obama sends his "warm greetings."
“We learned from Israel to let our troops serve in the military without having to hide who they love,” Shapiro added
Once the speeches were over, a colorful Pride Parade through the streets of the city began. The parade, including a procession of floats and organized groups of marchers, was accompanied by tens of thousands of supporters waving pride flags and enjoying the fine summer weather. The parade, with floats carrying DJs from the four main gay clubs – Evita, Shirazi, ADD and Dreck – exited Meir Park, traveled down Bograshov Street, passed through Ben-Yehuda Street onto Arlozoroff Street, and ended with a beach party at Gordon Beach hosted by supermodel Bar Refaeli. The party lineup included live performances by popular stars such as Omer Adam, Michal Amdursky and others, along with DJ sets by FFF, DRECK, Arisa, 3S0ME, Forever, Evita and Popring.