With best intentions

So, did Barkat seriously consider attending the parade or not?

Mayor Nir Barkat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mayor Nir Barkat
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Why did Mayor Nir Barkat declare his intention to the press not to join the Pride Parade last week? Was there such an initiative on his schedule at some point? If so, what made him change his mind?
Is this mayor, who was elected as a secular, modern, pluralist candidate, turning into a different person? Or, as one of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists asked, is Barkat a homophobe or a politician with his own agenda and limits?
Barkat has never attended pride parades in previous years. There is nothing that indicates he was ever requested to attend, considering that no mayor before him ever did so anyway. True, mayor Ehud Olmert did appear briefly at one of the parades years ago, but with a special context – it was shortly after his own daughter came out of the closet.
While it is not clear whether originally Barkat had any intention of showing up at the parade, sources at Safra Square speculate that he was threatened by haredi city council members, warning him that if he did so, there would be a heavy price to pay. Considering that Barkat aims to move on to the national political playground, that is not a threat one can easily disregard.
However, at least two members of the haredi United Torah Judaism list swore to this reporter that nobody threatened the mayor on this issue – one of them adding with a roar or laughter that “this must be just another one of the delusional dreams of the mayor’s assistants. We were not concerned that he might want to do so anyway.”
So, did Barkat seriously consider attending the parade or not? And if so, did he have to cancel this intention for fear he might lose the precious support of the haredi parties, endangering his future political steps? The answer, as usual in such cases, is complicated.
Barkat understands that he cannot prevent the Pride Parade from going forward, nor had he ever thought to do so. He is not a homophobe, even though he cannot exactly be described as a dedicated activist for the LGBT community. In fact, his position is much closer to that of the majority of the public, who understand the needs of the community and reject any form of homophobia, but do not necessarily adopt the complete LGBT agenda and discourse.
What is more important in the case of a mayor is what he decides to support through public money in his city. In that respect, Barkat has done more than any previous mayor – much more than merely approving here and there some activities for the benefit of the LGBT community. A year ago or so he approved recognition of the Jerusalem Open House as a community center that is entitled to public financial support like any other community center. This means the JOH has a steady budget from city hall and doesn’t have to run after multiple municipal committees to get a few shekels for each activity it holds, in a way that is steady, open and much more respectful.
On top of that, the municipality recently approved a permanent position for a youth social worker for JOH, something badly needed for years that had to be financed through donations up to now.
These are serious steps, and so far, no haredi city council member, even though they are members of the mayor’s coalition, has tweeted a word of opposition.
JOH sources admit that these things are much more important than the “mediacized” participation of the mayor at the parade, which might win him public support and leave them with the same financial problems they have long faced.
What remains to be explained is the odd decision of Barkat to announce his decision not to participate – even though nobody expected him to attend or asked him to do so. Was this a nod toward his future supporters on the haredi benches? A hasty decision not considered seriously enough? Something else still too early to understand?
Whatever the reasons behind this, it was not a good idea. As a haredi city councilman put it, with heavy cynicism, “Maybe we are so mighty in his eyes that he is afraid even when we do nothing.”