Jerusalem Municipality under fire after Pride event cancelled

Police and the municipality stated that the closure was decided on because of the coronavirus, but Aza Street was the only pedestrian mall set to be closed over the weekend.

Pride banner at the US Embassy building on Agron St. in Jerusalem after it was replaced on June 24 after being removed (photo credit: GAL GASHMA)
Pride banner at the US Embassy building on Agron St. in Jerusalem after it was replaced on June 24 after being removed
(photo credit: GAL GASHMA)
Just days after the Jerusalem Municipality came under fire for removing a Pride banner from a US Embassy building, the municipality is causing an uproar yet again by closing the pedestrian mall where a Pride event was planned to take place and reportedly increasing coronavirus enforcement specifically on businesses on that street just one day before the event was meant to occur.
The Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance had planned to hold a Pride festival on Aza Street on Friday. Aza Street was recently turned into a pedestrian-only street along with a number of other streets in the city, but the municipality announced on Thursday that Aza would be closed from Friday until Monday and that police enforcement would be increased in shops on the street as well.
An announcement by the municipality stressed that the closure was a “one time” decision. A notice sent to local business owners added that businesses should be aware that there would be increased enforcement on the street.
Jonathan Valfer, one of the organizers of the pride event on Aza Street, explained that the municipality stated that the police had ordered the closure and enforcement, while the police said that the municipality had ordered it. Both stated that the closure was decided on because of the coronavirus outbreak, but Aza Street was the only pedestrian mall set to be closed over the weekend.
On Thursday, a street festival with music and performances took place on Emek Refaim and Agripas Street. Pictures from Emek Refaim showed families crowded together. On Friday, street festivals and performances were planned to take place at the pedestrian malls on Shlomtzion Hamalka Street and Aza Street. The Shlomtzion Hamalka pedestrian mall will remain open, despite the closure of the one on Aza Street.
Israel has experienced a rapid rise in infection rates in recent weeks and the government has begun increasing enforcement and placing lockdowns on specific areas in an attempt to stop the outbreak.
“We planned a communal event, we wanted to celebrate, to meet to support small businesses. We took care to make sure it wouldn’t be defiant, so that even the residents who aren’t LGBTQ+ would be able to enjoy the pedestrian mall. But apparently someone up high – in the police and in the municipality – it hurts a lot to see LGBTQ+ people on the streets,” said Valfer.
Valfer explained that the community tried to hold a discussion with the municipality and police to make sure the event followed all requirements, but that neither body was ready to discuss with them what the requirements were.
“So tomorrow we will gather, celebrate and just enjoy without the pedestrian mall. We will remind the police, municipality and anyone who forgot that their job is to serve us and that the public arena is for the public. Yes, even for the LGBTQ+ public,” said Valfer.
“They’re trying to hide the beautiful spectrum of humanity of Jerusalem from the streets, including the LGBTQ+ community, the signs that support us and our presence in the city. Less flags, less human existence,” said Alon Shahar, CEO of the Open House. “There are some officials who don’t want us so much in the city. But there is incredible power in our community, power that won’t be silenced and won’t bow its head, power that will continue to spread light and love.”
On Tuesday, inspectors from the Jerusalem Municipality ordered the US Embassy to remove a banner marking Pride month at a building belonging to the embassy near the Old City, after Deputy Mayor Arieh King complained that the banner was displayed illegally and called it an “impurity.”
Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told The Jerusalem Post that the removal of the banner was caused by a “procedural misunderstanding which has been taken advantage of by known homophobe Arieh King.” The municipality worked to rectify the situation and the banner was replaced by Wednesday morning.
The Jerusalem Municipality announced on Wednesday morning as well that the municipality had instructed professional teams to put up Pride flags in the city on Saturday night ahead of a Pride rally set to take place on Sunday.
Trouble came in pairs in Jerusalem on Thursday night, as the anti-LGBTQ+ Lehava organization released directives to its members teaching them how to sneak into the Pride rally planned for Sunday. “This time we won’t come to a protest far away [from the event.] Rather we will come and blend in to the crowd and protest,” read a text attached to the directives by Lehava.
The directives informed members how to dress according to the “LGBTQ+ dress code,” which apparently includes extreme colors, short pants and t-shirts, and how to “act LGBTQ+,” which apparently includes talking loudly and with your hands. The directives warn activists that “they [LGBTQ+ people] tend to express through long handshakes and hugs. Please be careful and keep your distance.”
The release by Lehava also includes directives on what to do if arrested, including refusing a pat down and contacting Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir for legal assistance.
The release raised concerns amid the LGBTQ+ community, as haredi activists have committed acts of violence at Jerusalem Pride events in the past. In 2015, Yishai Schissel, a haredi man, infiltrated the Jerusalem pride parade and went on a stabbing rampage where he killed 16-year-old Shira Banki and wounded six others.