Death threats have been exchanged and protest signs have been put up and ripped down in Mitzpe Ramon as the desert city prepares for an LGBTQ+ Pride march which is set to take place on Friday.
Last week, Israel Police ordered the Pride march organizers to change the route of the march to the outskirts of the city, while an anti-LGBTQ+ protest would take place on the route in the center of the city instead. The request by police was made due to a "near certainty of serious and severe harm to the public order and public peace on part of the original route."
On Wednesday, the police decided to allow the march to return to its original route after a lawsuit was filed with the High Court of Justice on the matter.
Right-wing activists and members of Yeshiva Midbara ke-Eden, headed by Rabbi Tzvi Kustiner, who recently told students to "fight" against LGBTQ+ people, are preparing an anti-LGBTQ+ protest to take place next to the Pride march.
Kustiner is a member of the Noam Party, headed by MK Avi Maoz. Noam is an extremist party established by members of the hard-line wing of the religious-Zionist community – specifically, close associates and allies of Rabbi Zvi Yisrael Tau, head of Yeshivat Har Hamor.
Police have told the organizers of the march that the anti-LGBTQ+ protest will take place at 11:30 a.m., right as the march passes by that location. According to Haaretz, police were told by Kustiner and those close to him that if the march passes near the yeshiva, "they will not be able to control the students and the rabbi will not forbid them from arriving to the site."
Kustiner told police "you need to fear God, not me," according to the report. Kustiner additionally has said that he received a phone call threatening violence in May after his comments against the LGBTQ+ community.
The Yisrael Hofshit movement stated that dozens of buses are being organized by right-wing groups to bring protesters to Mitzpe Ramon and that the local LGBTQ+ community has suffered from death threats and anti-LGBTQ+ graffiti in recent weeks.
The far-right Lehava group published a poster inviting activists to the protest on Friday, saying it would be held in a "respectful manner to support and strengthen the family values trampled by the LGBTQ+ organizations."
On Wednesday, a member of the LGBTQ+ community filed a complaint with police after receiving a threat stating "we have nothing to lose, if some passes by the house of the rabbi - we will kill them.
Police announced on Thursday night that they had arrested a 50-year-old resident of Mitzpe Ramon on suspicion of making threats against one of the organizers of the Pride march in the city.
On Thursday, graffiti reading "Kustiner [is a] Nazi" and "Nazis" was found on a fence around a construction site and on a home where a sign reading "There is no pride in destroying the family" was put up.
LGBTQ+, right-wing leaders call for calm amid tensions
Both local LGBTQ+ activists and right-wing activists called for all sides to avoid confrontations or violence.
The "Merhav Geava - Mitzpe Ramon" group announced later on Thursday that it had erased the graffiti against Kustiner, saying "We remind everyone again to avoid manifestations of violence, threats or incitement. There is no place for this."
A letter published on social media attributed to Kustiner on Thursday stated that he and others would gather in an "upright, respectful and calm" manner at a rally "supporting family values and tradition."
"On this occasion, it is important for me to state the obvious - the protest is a protest of opinions and is not a personal protest against any one person. We are brothers! We cannot be dragged into provocations and even not to verbal confrontations of any sort," wrote Kustiner.
"The State of Israel is not just the State of Tel Aviv. As the center of the country receives budgets and support from all organizations and brands, we in Mitzpe Ramon continue to fight for our basic right - equality between human beings. To be who we are in our home, in Mitzpe Ramon," said Michal Romi, an organizer of the march.
Latest death threats against LGBTQ+ activists
In May, the first-ever LGBTQ+ Pride march that was to take place in Netivot was canceled after a bullet was placed on the office door of one of the organizers’ mothers and the family vehicle of another organizer was vandalized.
The march, which was planned for June 3, faced opposition from a number of local residents, with a petition against the march receiving over 4,800 signatures and a number of local rabbis speaking out against it. Some residents also held protests against the march.
Earlier this month, the organizers of the Pride march in Jerusalem also received threatening messages warning that the senders would not allow the march to occur and that “the fate of Shira Banki,” who was murdered by a Haredi man during the 2015 Pride march in the city, was “waiting” for the participants.
'Gays, go home!'
In May, KAN news shared a video showing Kustiner telling students to say "gays, go home!" in their workplaces.
“This is the battle that I tell everyone, each one in his place. Don’t be shy. Be courageous. Where you work say ‘LGBTQ+ people, go home!’ ‘gays, go home!’” said Kustiner.
Kustiner claimed there was much violence and sexual abuse among LGBTQ+ people, and called them “Evil people! They’re going to put this craziness in every home and we’re silent, scared. Parent 1, parent 2, crazy!” according to the video.
“Fight them on everything. It is our job in every place not to be ashamed of our Judaism. This crazy government, this insanity, God willing it will fall,” added the yeshiva head, with a number of students responding “Amen,” the video footage shows.