When it comes to gay pride events in Israel, it’s almost impossible to ignore
the huge differences that exist between the marches in the country’s two largest
This past June, a record-breaking 100,000 residents and tourists
turned out for Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.
Mayor Ron Huldai lauded his city
as the most gay-friendly in the world and was proud that thousands of tourists
had flocked to the city to enjoy the beach, parties and general laid-back and
As a show of support to the gay community, the Tel
Aviv Municipality dedicated NIS 590,000 to the pride events this year and
invested another NIS 225,000 in a campaign to boost gay tourism in the
In contrast, the Jerusalem Municipality is not involved in funding
the upcoming Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, which will take place on
August 1, and has invested nothing in bringing tourists to the event, which last
year attracted some 4,000 participants.
The disparity may seem unusual,
considering Jerusalem is the capital and has a larger population than Tel Aviv.
But then again, those two populations have very different characters, and the
pride events have largely opposite aims.
“Jerusalem Pride is not
necessarily a celebration, but more of a protest for the rights that we don’t
enjoy,” explains Elinor Sidi, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for
Pride and Tolerance (JOH) during a phone interview from her office in
The JOH is a grassroots activist community center, providing
direct services to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals
in Jerusalem and the surrounding communities. The center has been hosting the
annual March for Pride and Tolerance since 2002, despite strong opposition and
the municipality’s refusal to fund its activities.
“This year we are
going to talk about legislation,” explains Sidi. As a way of expressing that
theme, the march will begin at Independence Park and end at the Knesset, instead
of at Liberty Bell Park, where the march has ended in previous years. Afterward,
participants will gather outside the Knesset to listen to speeches from members
of the LGBT community. Top-level politicians such as opposition leader Shelly
Yacimovich (Labor) and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On are also slated to
This will be the third time the march is ending at the Knesset.
Sidi says it is necessary to end the day at the country’s political center
because there is not enough being done to advance legislation supporting the
“We do enjoy several privileges and freedoms, and the
situation is better here [Israel] than even the US,” she says. “We can join the
army with no problems, and there are certain laws in place.”
and her team believe the country’s decision-makers need to do a lot
As Jerusalem is the political capital of the country, it’s
important that the serious issues be addressed there, she explains. According to
the JOH executive director, the Knesset needs to treat homophobia as a
The issue of homophobia has always been a central theme of the
Jerusalem Pride March, but ever since the 2009 shooting attack at Tel Aviv’s Bar
Noar community center for LGBT teens, which left two dead and 15 wounded, the
issue has been even more heightened.
Instead of holding the pride march
in June, which is internationally recognized as LGBT Pride Month, the JOH
decided to move it to August to remember the date when the tragic event took
While the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance puts a
significant emphasis on national issues affecting the LGBT community, there is
also a strong focus on matters affecting the city itself. Due to objections from
the municipality over the years, holding such an event has been difficult, and
it has taken organizations such as the JOH years of struggle to make it happen.
In the past decade, the nonprofit has submitted no fewer than 10 petitions
against the municipality to be allowed to protest.
After all those
efforts, in the past two years, “someone has understood and got the message,”
says Sidi. Since 2011, instead of being forced to go through the courts as in
previous years, the march has been allowed to take place without the need for
Sidi hails this as a success and praises the
However, she doesn’t believe that this change of attitude took
place because of secular Mayor Nir Barkat and his municipality team; rather, she
believes the changes came about because the JOH petitioned the court and fought
for its rights there.
She is also convinced that the municipality has had
nothing to do with the decrease in the number of protests that the haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) community has held in the past few years.
In 2005, a
religious protester stabbed three marchers, and in 2006 there was violent
rioting in one of Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhoods ahead of the
Although there have been small protests in recent years, there
has been nothing on the scale of what took place in 2005 and 2006. Sidi puts
this down to haredi leaders not wanting to kick up too much of a fuss, because
it draws attention to the event and means their children start asking questions
on a subject about which they would otherwise have known nothing.
are keeping the yeshiva boys in yeshiva,” she explains.
criticism, the municipality stresses that it supports the rights of the city’s
“The municipality feels that it is important to support
the Open House and does this by budgeting thousands of shekels towards its
activities,” a municipality spokesperson says. “The mayor even met with and will
continue to meet with representatives from the [LGBT] community and the Open
House to discuss with them the advancement of a number of different issues. His
door is always open to them.”
Regarding the change in policy a couple of
years ago, the spokesperson says: “In 2012 there wasn’t any type of legal
disagreement, the mayor gave his support at a council meeting that satisfied the
full demands of the Open House as he has also done in the past. For this he
received a lot of praise from the executive director of the Open
Realizing the severity of the opposition from the religious
community, previous JOH executive director Yonatan Gher began engaging in direct
communication with religious communities. According to Sidi, this dialogue has
“When you have direct communication, violence is
reduced,” she says.
While it’s the pride march that always receives the
most attention, there is also a week of activities taking place starting Sunday,
July 28. Labor MK Stav Shaffir will be participating in an open conversation
titled “Community and Politics,” and there will be a political panel at the JOH
including representatives from Labor, Meretz, Likud, Yesh Atid and Hadash. On
the cultural scene, a Pride Film Festival will take place at the city’s
Cinematheque, and there will be music and dance nights at clubs such as Mikveh
and Video Pub.