J'lem gay pride parade ends peacefully

Right-wing activists, haredim hold counter demonstrations; man arrested for throwing egg.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
June 24, 2009 23:25
2 minute read.
J'lem gay pride parade ends peacefully

gay pride parade jerusalem 248. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

Under tight security, thousands of people marched in a gay pride parade through the streets of the capital on Thursday evening. The eighth annual event, which is organized by Jerusalem's Open House Gay and Lesbian Center, has been the subject of much controversy in years past, although this year's version went peacefully after the haredi community decided to refrain from public protests in an effort to minimize publicity for the event. The celebrants assembled in the city's Liberty Bell Park and set off for Independence Park at 5 p.m. In the sole incident of violence, a protester was arrested after throwing an egg at participants, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Hundreds of haredim in the Mea She'arim neighborhood held a peaceful protest against the parade, but, at the instruction of their rabbis, stayed far away from it. The event, which was attended by 4,000 people according to police estimates, is viewed by the haredi and modern Orthodox public, as well as by Christian and Muslim religious leaders, as an abomination and an anathema to core biblical values and the holiness of Jerusalem. Supporters of the parade counter that freedom of speech allows them to hold the event, as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism. "We need some freedom in this city," said Bosnian-born Zlatan Hubanis, 32, from Jerusalem. The musicologist, who had donned a rainbow headband, said he had attended the annual event several times even though he was not gay, because "the city is for everyone." "Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion," said Matt Schultz, 21, from Boston, although he conceded that homosexuality was against the Bible. "Ten percent of every population - even animals - is gay - so even the Holy City has its gays," offered Britney Miller, 24, from the Los Angeles area. She "absolutely" supported the event being held in the city. Others were unsure. "I wondered why davka [especially] annoy Jerusalemites," asked Australian Linda Tamir, who came with her daughter Rachel, who is attending a one-year program in Israel. Tamir expressed surprise that no religious protesters or Arab residents were at the event, which her teenage daughter said was "important" for the city. On a balmy summer evening, the marchers donned rainbow dresses, shirts and headbands, and waved rainbow and Israeli flags. As in years past, the parade took place under a heavy police presence, with over 1,500 officers, under the command of the city's police chief, Cmdr. Aharon Franco, manning the streets to prevent any altercations or violence. A police chopper kept watch and undercover detectives circulated in the crowd - where there was one police officer for nearly every three participants. Snarling rush-hour traffic in an already-traffic congested city, central Jerusalem streets - including Rehov King David - were closed to traffic ahead of and during the parade. In years past, opposition to the parade has united the major religious leaders in Jerusalem, producing a rare interfaith accord among Jews, Christians and Muslims. In contrast, the Conservative and Reform Movements in Jerusalem have voiced support for the event. An annual more fiesty gay pride parade takes place in Tel Aviv without any controversy. "I've been to both parades and it was done right for Jerusalem," said Ryan Green, 22, of Baltimore, as he exited a post-march concert in a central city park. Indeed, a marcher scolded a fellow participant for taking off his shirt, saying "This is Jerusalem." A 2005 gay parade in Jerusalem ended in violence when a haredi man stabbed three participants. He is now serving a 12-year prison sentence. A public opinion poll found that two-thirds of Jerusalem residents opposed holding such an event in the city.


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