In a rainbow of color and diversity, an estimated 35,000 people took to the capital’s streets Thursday for the 17th-annual Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance, with numerous groups, organizations and public officials participating in the parade.
The march comes against the background of heavy protest by the LGBT community and large parts of Israeli society against the recently passed surrogacy law that excludes gay men from access to child surrogacy service, and vitriolic opposition to the gay community at large from hardline elements in the national-religious community.
Two protests were held by hardline national-religious groups, one by the far-right Lehava group near the starting point of the parade at Liberty Bell Park, and the other at the Bridge of Strings.
At 5:30 p.m., amid a cordon of protection by police, Border Police and other security personnel, march participants began winding their way up Keren Hayesod and King George streets, and eventually down to Independence Park in the city center.
Along the route, the marchers chanted slogans, including, “There are lesbians and gays in Mea She’arim too,” a reference to Jerusalem’s radical ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Some chanted against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reversed himself on the July 18 vote on surrogacy to deny government funding for gays.
Numerous banners and posters were waved by the participants, proclaiming, “Born this way,” “LGBT-phobia is racism,” and “I want to get married.” The latter references the lack of civil marriage in Israel.
Other marchers carried banners citing biblical verses about tolerance and love. Marchers from the Reform movement held signs reading, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,”(Lev. 19:18). Others raised banners stating, “In the image of God He created me,” a slightly modified version of another famous passage from Genesis.
One banner held by several people read, “LGBTQIs against pinkwash, no pride in apartheid.”
Yaniv, 30, from Jerusalem and one of the participants holding this sign, said Israel has “abused its apparent image of liberalness to the world” to present an image that “everything is wonderful and everyone has equal rights, when that’s not correct for LGBTs and definitely, definitely not correct for Palestinians.”
The parade route and nearby roads were closed to traffic.
An array of liberal organizations and public figures participated in the march, including the Reform Movement and the Bina Jewish social movement.
Orthodox rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, a social activist, former member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council for the Yerushalmim Party and currently the party’s chairman of the board, was in attendance in solidarity with the LGBT community.
“Despite the fact that my presence here can be interpreted as heresy, and although I stand by Jewish law, it’s important for me to stand with a community that doesn’t feel safe, is oppressed. As a municipal leader, I feel an obligation to support this community’s right to express itself,” Leibowitz told The Jerusalem Post
Eyal Lurie-Pardes, a local gay rights activist and candidate for the Meretz Party in the October 30 Jerusalem municipal elections, told the Post that before the march began, the event held special significance this year in light of the surrogacy law, the antagonism of hardline rabbis against the LGBT community, and what he said was the disparity in public support for gay rights and current government policy.
“The gay community is fed up with the massive gap between the broad and mass support of the general public for LGBT rights which we see in all the polls that are taken, and government policy,” he said.
Lurie-Pardes rejected arguments that the pride parade is a provocation, given Jerusalem’s religious character. Gays have a right to live in every part of the country, he said.
“The gay community is in every place and in every sector of the population in Israel and in the world. To try and push us out of the public domain in the capital city of the state is ridiculous. We are an inseparable part of the city. I am a third generation Jerusalemite. Is this city less mine?,” he said. “Is it acceptable to say that people who live all their lives in Jerusalem are not able to march in pride like they do in all other major cities in the world just because some of the people here are conservative? This is the essence of a democratic state. Democracy and pluralism need to include everyone, and the pride parade is an inseparable part of this mosaic.”
Lehava activists at the protest against the march accused the police of undue violence against them. Four protesters were arrested, although the reasons remain unclear. Far-right attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir said he was lightly injured and his glasses were damaged while being manhandled by a policeman at the protest.
Ben-Gvir issued a statement reading, “Policemen dressed up as gays and march participants broke into Lehava’s demonstration and arrested several participants.”
A police spokesman said in response merely that “four suspects were arrested for causing public disturbances in the area during the parade.”
At the demonstration under the Bridge of Strings, several hundred national-religious protesters assembled for the event called “To be a normal people in our land.”
Anti-gay protesters there also held signs citing Genesis. One read “….man and woman he created them,” and another “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Other signs read “Jerusalem, the holy city” and “There is no pride in the destruction of the family.”
Well known anti-gay activist and educator Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, co-dean of the Bnei David Premilitary Academy, spoke at the protest saying that the news channels were “collaborating with the destruction of the family unit, and thanked “all the brave people who came here in a reality in which anyone who speaks about a pure and holy family unit is subject to ridicule.”
Levenstein also praised the demonstrators for “giving strength to the normal family unit of a mother and father, the holiness of the Israeli family and the great light of the Jewish people.”
Earlier this week, a group of 200 rabbis, including the most senior religious leaders of the conservative wing of the National Religious movement, wrote a letter condemning surrogacy and adoption for gays, and describing homosexuals as “perverts.”
Lurie-Pardas said he had filed a request to the Attorney General and the head of the Israel Civil Service to bring any rabbi who signed the document who is an elected or publicly appointed official to disciplinary procedures.
“There are a number of people who are public officials, who get a salary from taxpayers money, and they need to understand that they serve the entire community, part of which is LGBT,” he said.
“There are many people who listen to these rabbis, and these words are said without responsibility for the actions which might happen as a result. We have suffered so much violence in our history, and I think that this aggressive, gross, divisive dialogue must stop.”
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