Jerusalem pride parade, 2 August 2018..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On Thursday, thousands turned out for Jerusalem’s annual Pride Parade, one of the largest crowd’s in the city’s history since the parade began in 2002.
The controversial event is a statement to Israel’s commitment to tolerance. For years extremists have argued that Jerusalem is the wrong venue for the parade and that adorning the city with the rainbow flag goes against the city’s holy roots. However, as the capital of Israel, Jerusalem is also a city of tolerance – and the March for Pride and Tolerance, as it is officially called, has a place in the city alongside all the other multi-cultural events that showcase Israel’s commitment to human rights and diversity.
The parade Thursday took place in the center of the city and ended at Independence Park. Several thousand police were deployed for security. In 2005 and 2015, marchers in the parade were stabbed; Shira Banki died from her wounds in 2015. The marchers this year once again paid tribute to her memory and that of Nir Katz, who was murdered in a shooting attack at a Tel Aviv gay center in 2009.
The lessons of the past have been learned. Extremists and bigoted voices must not be allowed to intimidate Israel. Unlike Iran and the extremists of Hamas, Israel is a country that struggles to exemplify tolerance, especially considering its numerous communities that have different traditions.
The Jerusalem Open House which supports the parade notes the importance religion plays in Jerusalem. “As a holy city to three of the religious traditions – Judaism, Christians and Islam – Jerusalem has a reputation for being a serious, conservative, straight place.” However the JOH also notes that the City of Gold has an ‘enduring appeal bolstered by its undeniable energy.” The LGBT community has an active social and religious life in Israel’s capital.
The Pride Parade provokes hateful rhetoric among those who oppose it every year. This is not merely protest rhetoric, or reasonable opposition, but rather incitement and hate. That it provokes such hatred illustrates how important it is that the city host the parade and that security forces work hard to protect it.
In an ideal world there should be no need of protection; police would only be deployed to direct traffic. But just as terrorists over the years have forced Israel to maintain security against bombs, stabbings and shootings, so does the incitement against the parade also necessitate a massive security presence. That presence is so large as to be almost oppressive, putting the city on edge. It is necessary because some have not learned the lessons of the past, which is that hatred in any form is unacceptable.
Hatred against the parade or the gay community doesn’t begin or end with hatred against one community. It comes from voices of those who support hate crimes against other groups. It comes from those voices who hate Arab citizens in Israel, those voices who mock Druze soldiers, those voices who shout “Nazi” at secular people and call women “shiksa” – gentile. This hatred comes from the voices that always harass, spit on, intimidate and seek to undermine the state’s unity and strength.
These are the voices of division, the voices of those who pose as religious or nationalist but who have no interest in a strong country, a nation of different peoples. They want only a narrow, extremist Israel which will destroy itself from within through baseless hatred. It is no small symbol that the pride parade comes after the 9th of Av, because the baseless hatred against people for their sexual orientation – or merely for wanting to take part in a parade – is the hatred that does not build up Israel, but tears it down.
There is a place to criticize the parade, its symbol and its agenda. There is a place to argue that the parade contradicts the religious and conservative ways of Jerusalem and that it needlessly provokes. That is a voice worth having and worth debating. That is why religious sensibilities should be taken into account – and are taken into account, in the route of the parade and in the effort to be more subdued than its Tel Aviv counterpart. It also means that there is a lack of municipal and national figures in attendance.
This healthy and delicate balance is what makes Israel unique and special. We should honor that balance and proudly hold up a strong hand to hatred.
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