Over 10,000 join Jerusalem Pride march despite potential threats

52 suspects detained or arrested by police during the event.

Jerusalem Pride parade attendees stand under a make-shift Chuppah made out of a Pride flag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem Pride parade attendees stand under a make-shift Chuppah made out of a Pride flag
A sea of rainbow flags flooded the capital’s streets on Thursday as more than 10,000 Jerusalemites, Israelis and foreigners marched in the 18th annual Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance.
With this year’s theme of “One community, many faces,” people from across the political and religious spectrum began arriving at Liberty Bell Park at 3 p.m., first for booths and speeches, and later to join the 1 km. march to Independence Park.
Many parents with children and baby carriages attended this year’s celebration. One father, asked why he brought his family to Pride this year, responded that his son was on the [gender] spectrum. This was their first time at the Jerusalem Pride, he said, and his son, no older than six, was wearing a dress.
The celebration and march were held under tight security. In a new crowd control initiative, Pride participants had to wear entry bracelets. Police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld said everyone was able to enter, and that Israel Police were prepared to secure the route for a crowd of up to 30,000 people.
Notwithstanding the heavy police presence – likely in response to the fatal attack four years ago when 16-year old Shira Banki was stabbed by ultra-Orthodox extremist Yishai Schlissel – the atmosphere in the park was jovial with pride themed music, free ices, and flags of all colors.
First-ever openly gay Israeli MK Amir Ohana gets booed at the Jerusalem Pride parade (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netta Barzilai’s mega-hit “Toy” was the unofficial anthem at the Pride march’s pre-party. Dozens of organizations were on hand distributing free rainbow paraphernalia and brochures. Among the organizations were those representing the city’s religious population.
“I am here to support. I am part of the religious community that comes every year,” Gabriella Rosentein told The Jerusalem Post at the pre-event.
Likud MK Amir Ohana, who became Israel's first openly gay minister on Wednesday when he was appointed interim justice minister, also attended the event. Video footage shows the right-wing Knesset member being booed by the crowd, with people chanting "Embarrassment."
Ohana later said, "As a liberal who believes wholeheartedly in freedom of expression, I told the same group of protesters protesting against me, neither ultra-Orthodox nor religious, that it was important that they came there. I just hope that this did not overshadow the main message that should emerge from this event.
It does not matter whether you are religious, secular, rightist, leftist, LGBT or not - the message is a message of tolerance. "
Both the Blue and White and Meretz parties were also represented.
We “need freedom, the freedom to be who we are,” Blue and White’s Eitan Ginzburg said to the Post at the march. “Equality is needed for everyone, specifically in Jerusalem.”
Ginzburg, who was elected mayor of Ra’anana in 2018, is the first openly gay person to serve as a mayor in Israel.
When Likud’s Amir Ohana – appointed on Wednesday as the first openly gay justice minister – walked through the crowd at Liberty Bell Park, he was met with mostly booing, and some lonely claps.
The US Jerusalem Embassy also sent a delegation to the parade to show support.
Parents of children who have come out the closet, allies and members of the parade all marched up Keren Hayesod Street. Their chants were more reminiscent of a political rally than most Pride parades.
“Bibi, Bibi, wake up,” some chanted. “We are here to stay,” others yelled. At one instance, a delegation of religious LGBTQ Jews danced in circles as songs played about the Messiah.
For some, this year’s Pride parade had special meaning, since it marked the first time that the Jerusalem march was the first Pride parade of the year in Israel, effectively launching the Pride events across the country. In addition, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, which marked a critical point in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in the United States and across the world.
Many LGBTQ Israelis are still fighting for those rights, including same-sex marriage. Gay Israelis, like heterosexual citizens, may marry outside the country and have their marriage recognized by the Ministry of the Interior. However, same-sex weddings are still prohibited in the country.
Similarly, the controversial surrogacy law discriminates against gay couples and single men by denying them state-supported surrogacy. When the bill was passed last July, tens of thousands protested in Tel Aviv.
We are here “to fight for our rights and equality,” Ofer Erez – the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House, which organizes the yearly parade – told the Post. “It’s important to understand that the march is a way for us to demonstrate that we have the right to march freely and happily in the street, but also every day in the streets of Jerusalem.”
Erez said planning the event was complicated, and that the organization and police butted heads a few times.
Most recently, the police had hoped to check everyone’s ID before they entered for security purposes. Erez argued this endangered the LGBTQ community and people’s privacy. He prevailed, with the compromise that participants were given a bracelet. The police only checked the ID of those deemed suspicious.
According to Rosenfeld, 52 people were detained or arrested on suspicion that they intended to disrupt the parade. One man detained several hundred meters from the event had a knife hidden in his hat.
Every year, the Open House and the police also argue about the length and venue of the parade route.
“Every year, they try to convince us to march in a smaller space, not in a central [part of the] city,” Erez said. But, “part of the march is awareness. It is for people to see the march and the people.”
The route has remained for the past two years, passing along Keren Hayesod Street and Agron Street.
Police do not permit bystanders along the route. Two counter-demonstrations were permitted in separate locations. There were no violent incidents.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.