The 17th annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade kicks off from Meir Park, June 12, 2015.
(photo credit: GUY YEHIELI)
Rainbow flags adorn balconies and line the streets of Tel Aviv as the city gears up for its annual Gay Pride Parade.
Tens of thousands people are expected to flock to the Mediterranean coastline this weekend for Friday’s event.
But as the procession has flourished to become the largest such celebration in the Middle East and Asia, some activists are struggling to reconcile the international image of the parade as “fun in the sun” with what they say is long-stalled progress in fighting homophobia and securing resources for Israel’s LGBT community – especially for gays living outside the “Tel Aviv bubble.”
“500 cases a year of homophobic attacks have been reported [to Aguda, the National Association of LGBT in Israel] and there are still thousands more that are not reported on because we are so used it,” said Chen Arieli, chair of Aguda.
Last year Arieli helped lead LGBT activists who threatened to cancel the parade after it was revealed that the government budget for promoting LGBT tourism was more than six times the amount allocated to LGBT welfare. Some of the tourism budget was later eliminated and money was allocated to LGBT issues.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), a prominent LGBT rights proponent in the Knesset, said progress on LGBT rights in Israel is coming from civil society, not from legislation.
The Tel Aviv parade, she said, is like “a beam of light” to other pride marches in Beersheba, Ashdod and Jerusalem, more conservative cities in which activists are still finding their footing.
In some instances, parades have been marred by violence, including the death of 16-year-old Shira Banki, who was stabbed by a Jewish extremist at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade.
Regarding LGTB issues like parenting and education, Zandberg argues that the current Likud-led government promotes the diversity of Tel Aviv abroad but has gone years without passing significant gay-rights legislation.
“Every year many bills are being submitted and rejected,” she remarked, “Unfortunately I don’t see a reason for that to change.”
Other Israeli and Palestinian activists are boycotting the parade, claiming Israel promotes gay rights “as a fig leaf to hide the crimes of the occupation.”
Pinkwashing Israel, a leader in the parade boycott, will hold a protest at the starting point of the march at Meir Park on Friday. More than 200 people on Facebook have said they plan to attend.
Meanwhile the Jaffa bar Anna Loulou, owned by a team of Palestinians and Israelis, plans to hold an “antipride” event on Thursday.
Around 30,000 tourists arrived for last year’s parade and some 200,000 participated.
Zandberg sees the influx of tourism as a natural results of Tel Aviv’s vibrant gay community; others believe the parade has strayed too much from protesting to partying.
“Some people say ‘Pride in Tel Aviv is a party and Pride in Jerusalem is a statement,’” remarked Mike Hamel, a longtime gay rights activist and former Aguda chair. “Personally I think pride in Tel Aviv is a statement by its sheer size and visibility. But it must remain a statement.”
Arieli, however, advocates moving the main parade from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Maybe we need to celebrate in Tel Aviv and march in Jerusalem,” she said. “The Supreme Court, the Knesset, the President’s House – all the places that we need to protest are in Jerusalem.”