Analysis: Worse than a gay parade

For haredi rabbis, losing control of their followers is more frightening.

"The main reason for us being against the gay parade now," said one haredi politician this week, "is that if it actually takes place, everyone will see how hollow our threats were." The man, well connected to the haredi sages and their current thinking, predicted that most rabbis will forbid their followers from demonstrating and blocking the marchers' way, so they won't see "forbidden" sights. In the absence of the mainstream haredi groups, only a few fanatics and extreme right-wingers, under the control of no rabbi, will turn up, and they will easily be brushed off by the 12,000 police scheduled to patrol the capital on Friday. The fear of proving that there are limits to their power has caused what a few days ago seemed to be a united front against the parade to fall into disarray. The scenes of increasingly violent confrontations with police in the alleys of Mea She'arim notwithstanding, anyone who knows the haredi world realizes that the violence mainly comes from a small group of extremists, joined by impressionable young boys. The rest of the haredi community is being forced to accept that there is little it can do now. When Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced on Sunday night that he wasn't going to give in to police entreaties to cancel the parade on grounds of public order and safety, but decreed that an alternative and more secure route could be located, the organizers were quick to proclaim victory. They could have acted angry and insulted at being excluded from the city's center by threats of violence, but they realized that holding the parade any place in Jerusalem would mean a win for them. Now that a new route - around the Knesset and Supreme Court and ending up at Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus - further from residential areas and religious neighborhoods has been agreed upon, the police will find it very hard to back down in the face of more threats. Also Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, in what was her first involvement in controversy since assuming her post, made it quite clear that she will be in favor of the compromise when she resumes hearing the arguments on the petitions to cancel the parade on Wednesday. A few rabbis seemed prepared, begrudgingly, to accept the compromise on Sunday, but they quickly backed down when the overall majority stuck to the hard-line refusal to acquiesce to any gay parade in the Holy City. But the opposition seems to have lost focus. On Thursday, many haredim felt betrayed by the participation of a number of prominent rabbis, mainly from the national-religious camp, in a meeting with representatives of the homosexual community to find a way to defuse tensions. Nothing much came out of the meeting but it highlighted the fault lines in the disjointed religious coalition. Despite all the threats, there are yet no clear plans as what the haredim actually plan to do on Friday. Despite all kinds of gimmicks, such as the idea of leading a procession of donkeys, horses and other beasts through the streets of Jerusalem, most rabbis favor holding relatively low-key prayer gatherings in religious areas at the same time as the parade. That was also the essence of Sunday's proclamation by the chief rabbis, which while worded hubristically, actually meant that there should be no active opposition to the march save for prayers within the community. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar went on to criticize all actions against the parade "not done with presence of mind." Contrary to their image, most senior rabbis are usually very reluctant to send their followers into any kind of violent confrontation in which they might lose control of them. More than anything else, they are worried about what some of the unruly elements in their communities may do. While those outside the haredi world might blame the rabbis for any violence, within the community it will be viewed as a direct challenge to the rabbis' authority. The haredi rabbis are also worried about growing links with the religious-right wing and are especially suspicious of the effect that these links are having on their increasingly nationalistic younger generation. They're not going to like the expressed wish of the Council of Rabbis in Judea and Samaria to hold a counterdemonstration and prayers on the Temple Mount. For them, entering the mount before the Messiah arrives is every bit as bad as a gay parade. The extreme wings of the haredi community, the Eda Haredit and Neturei Karta, will continue to riot in the streets, shadowy figures will issue threats of bombings and pulsa denura curses, but the mainstream haredi leadership will gradually lower the rhetoric and keep their soldiers in check. For them the only thing worse than homosexuals marching in Jerusalem is to have their followers defy orders and try to stop them.