Comment: J'lem won't burn, but it won't get any better

Gay pride parades have taken place before in Jerusalem and generally in peace.

gay pride parade 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
gay pride parade 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The raging debate over the planned gay parade in Jerusalem next month, which included the no-confidence motion in the Knesset on Monday, is turning into one of the most bizarre episodes in the annals of State and Religion disputes. There are already a number of attendant absurdities. First and foremost is the awkward alliance between rabbis and sheikhs. Who could have imagined that prominent figures in the religious right-wing and settlers camp such as Rabbi Yaakov Medan could have found common cause with the leaders of the Islamic Movement? The initiative to launch a joint front against the parade was from the Jewish side, but the rabbis certainly didn't realize that one of the main reasons that the other side would give for opposing the parade would have been that "this is yet another attempt by the Jews to defile the sanctity of Islam in Al-Quds." Perhaps they should have thought twice before enlisting such unorthodox allies and especially balked at giving the pope a say in the affairs of Israel's contested capital. Another weird outcome is Shas having to vote against an anti-gay motion in the Knesset because of its coalition membership and United Torah Judaism, the sponsors of the motion, acknowledging for the first time in haredi history that homosexuality actually exists, a fact they have steadfastly denied for generations. Haredi newspapers aren't even allowed to print the "h-word." There also seems to have been a major miscalculation on the side of the gay community. Arguably they've never enjoyed such a level of acceptance in Israel when even the prime minister's daughter is an open lesbian and the courts are routinely ruling in their favor whenever their rights to adopt or receive the benefits of partnership are questioned. The insistence on holding the parade against such opposition is awakening previously dormant opposition to gay rights and carries the risk of alienating generally benign parts of Israeli society. Some of them are going to be asking soon whether it was all worth it, just to make the point. Aside from the political mistakes, most of the rhetoric being used is ridiculous. The haredi and Arab opponents of the parade are warning that "Jerusalem will burn" if it goes ahead. Gay parades have taken place before in Jerusalem and generally in peace, with the notable exception of one stabbing attempt by a haredi man last year. This year's march is supposed to be much larger but is not planned to pass through haredi or Arab neighborhoods. The relatively short route will be protected by a blanket of police security and most haredi protesters will ultimately keep away, not prepared to sully their eyes with the sight of abominations. Most other Jerusalemites will go about their business as usual and at the most complain about the traffic jams from the safety of their air-conditioned cars. And, if anyone has any doubt of the parade actually taking place due to police concerns over public safety, bear in mind that such a decision would immediately be petitioned against and Supreme Court President Aharon Barak is not likely to allow a landmark ruling against freedom of speech in the last months of his tenure. But the claim by the gay leadership that by marching in Jerusalem they will have struck a blow for freedom in the capital is also disingenuous. The city does not suffer from lack of religious freedom or freedom from religion. During the 1980s and 1990s, street battles were waged over the right of the secular community to go to movies and restaurants on Shabbat. Stores stocking pork and other non-kosher delicacies were routinely torched and plans for building a new sports stadium stridently opposed. All that is a thing of the past. Today there is no shortage of restaurants and delicatessens with shell fish and bacon on the menu on any day of the week. There are cinemas open seven days a week and Betar has Teddy Stadium in which to lose. Gay bars exist, multi-colored gay-pride flags fly from balconies above Ben-Yehuda Street and haredi-controlled City Hall has even been forced by the court to finance activities at the "Open House" center. None of this has changed the fact that secular Jews are still leaving Jerusalem in droves, mainly young adults and couples at the outset of their careers, while neighborhood after neighborhood is being taken over by haredi families buying up every available apartment. The haredi leadership realized years ago that demonstrations and violent actions are ineffective, as there will always be militants on the other side fighting them with the backing of police and the courts. They have quietly shifted their efforts to demography and real estate, where they have been consistently victorious. Young couples are fleeing Jerusalem because of a lack of employment and affordable housing. Even most non-haredi middle-class areas are inaccessible because of the influx of wealthy Jews from abroad forcing prices sky high. They are also leaving because of the feeling that they have no future in a city steadily becoming more and more dominated by haredi politicians who have no interest in allowing secular culture and education to flourish. No parade can change any of that. Jerusalem won't burn next month if 10,000 gay people march through its center, but it won't become any easier to live in for non-haredi inhabitants either, heterosexual or homosexual.