Mayor Nir Barkat was lambasted by left-wing politicians on Wednesday as being insensitive and biased, after announcing he will not attend Jerusalem’s gay pride parade because it is damaging to the sensibilities of the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing sectors.
In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Barkat – who has a largely right-wing and religious municipal coalition – stated: “I won’t march because I don’t want to be part of the harm to the ultra-Orthodox public and the religious-Zionist public.
Tolerance is not just letting people march; it’s also looking for the way to get what you want without offending the opinion of others, or the feelings of others.
In Jerusalem, there’s a large population that has a really hard time with the parade.
“So you’re basically coming and asking me to be part of the harm caused to the ultra-Orthodox and religious-Zionist population. And I say no. I don’t want to harm that population.
As mayor, I represent everyone, and therefore I’m on the side of the heads of the community and their rights, and I’ll do everything to facilitate their realizing them.”
Many left-wing and center- left politicians took offense at what they deemed to be the mayor’s insensitive and myopic stance, particularly following the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki by a religious zealot at last year’s parade.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On issued a strongly worded statement criticizing Barkat for “degrading Banki’s memory” by cynically siding with his religious constituency for political gain, at the expense of a deeply marginalized community.
“The mayor again succumbed to religious terrorism, and making small political calculations against the gay community without shame – while spitting on the safety and dignity of the entire community to elicit electoral gains – and thus is derelict of his duty as a public figure,” she said.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), head of the Knesset State Control Committee, also took the mayor to task for his comments.
“The head of Israel’s capital should show sensitivity and concern to all populations in the city, not just one particular sector,” Elharar said, adding that Barkat clearly “prefers one population over another...
“There is such an important statement of tolerance and acceptance to be made with the arrival of the mayor to the gay pride parade in his city, and his statement is even more blatant and insensitive by his deciding not to attend the parade.”
While conceding that Barkat has generously supported Open House Jerusalem – the capital’s sole LGBT advocacy organization – with municipal funding over the past year, Deputy Director Tom Canning said the mayor still appears disconnected from the group’s mission.
“We are very disappointed by the decision of the mayor not to attend the parade this year,” said Canning. “We appreciate the financial and logistical support we received from the municipality throughout the year, but support also has to be in public gestures, and not only in funding. We think that his perspective is completely wrong and unrepresentative of Jerusalemites.”
Moreover, Canning said that after extensive outreach to the religious sector since Banki’s murder, many Orthodox Jews have agreed to march in the parade.
“One of the largest groups to march this year are members from the religious community who do not find it offensive,” he said.
Acknowledging that Barkat will lay a wreath before the parade to honor Banki where she was stabbed to death last year by Yishai Schlissel, Canning nonetheless contended that Barkat remains insensitive to the underpinnings of her murder.
“It’s unacceptable that Nir Barkat is ignoring that Shira Banki was murdered because of her participation in the parade, and he cannot disconnect between these two events,” he said. “Disconnecting between the homophobic act of murdering her and the parade itself... is unacceptable.”
Following the backlash, Barkat issued a statement softening his stance, while still not agreeing to attend the parade.
“I fully support the LGBT community’s right to march in Jerusalem,” the statement said.
“Tomorrow, I will personally lay a wreath at the site where Shira Banki was murdered. I will continue to fight fiercely for the rights of the community to march, as well as continue to provide municipal budgets, resources and support.”
Barkat added that despite religious opposition to the annual parade, “every person has the right to live in Jerusalem and to march in Jerusalem without prejudice,” and that he will “continue to forcefully condemn all forms of incitement.
The fact that some feel offended by the march does not mean it should not be held.”
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Arye Stern requested that the municipality remove two gay pride flags that were placed on the Great Synagogue and the Yeshurun Synagogue, both of which are on King George Street, which is part of the route of the parade.
In a letter to Barkat on Tuesday, Stern said it would “be appropriate” to remove the flags, and that he was “certain that this will help reduce the tension, and show that there is consideration for the holiness of Jerusalem.”
Stern was the first public rabbi to visit those wounded in the attack on the parade in 2015, and he attended a subsequent tolerance rally in Jerusalem where he called for “increased love” and caring between citizens.
He added, however, that “Sabbath desecration and a lack of modesty should not be highlighted.”
Two senior leaders in the hardline wing of the national-religious community, Rabbis Tzvi Tau and Shlomo Aviner, issued a public letter on Wednesday protesting the staging of the parade in Jerusalem, describing it as “a march of abomination.”
Beginning their letter with a quote from the Bible describing homosexuality as an abomination, the two rabbis said they wished to express their opposition to the parade.
“We further protest the terrible desecration of God’s name, which is also bringing sinners from abroad to participate in this abomination in our holy city,” they wrote.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most senior rabbinical figures in the conservative wing of the national-religious movement, gave explicit backing to the extremist Lehava organization for its protest against the parade.