Police weigh banning J'lem gay parade

Concerns growing of violent showdown between participants and opponents.

gay parade 88 (photo credit: )
gay parade 88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem police are expected to decide this week whether to allow a controversial international gay pride parade to take place in the city this summer amidst growing international opposition to the event by an unusual coalition of religious Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the world. The super-sensitive police decision, which will be taken by Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter in consultation with Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco, comes after months of simmering tension over the planned August event, with concerns growing of a violent showdown between extremist opponents of the parade and its participants if it goes ahead as scheduled. The planned week-long international gay festival, which was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed until August due to last summer's concomitant Gaza pullout, has been widely criticized by a coterie of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem and around the world as a deliberate provocation and affront to millions of believers around the world. Supporters of the event counter that freedom of speech enables them to hold the event in Jerusalem, as a symbol of tolerance, pluralism, and love for all humanity. In the latest move against the parade, Israeli and American Rabbinical leaders, who have been cooperating closely with Muslim religious leaders on the issue, have written to the Pope, asking him to issue a public condemnation against the event, in the hopes of increasing Christian opposition to the move. "We ask your Excellency to issue an emotional, strong, and unequivocal call against this horrible phenomenon, in the hope that the amalgamation of protests being voiced by religious leaders... will prevent the willful wrongdoers to damage and corrupt the ways of humanity," Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar wrote Pope Benedict XVI in a letter this week. "If we have any chance of preventing this blasphemy, it is only if the leaders and practitioners of the other faiths speak loudly, unequivocally and often as to the absolutely outrageous provocation that this anti-God convention constitutes," New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin, of the Orthodox 'Rabbinical Alliance of America' and the 'Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the US and Canada' wrote in a separate letter to the Pontiff. Levin, who has been at the forefront of the public campaign in Israel against the event for the past two and half years, said that he has discussed the possibility of religious leaders announcing that they would lie down in the streets of Jerusalem as part of a non-violent protest to arouse worldwide opposition to the planned event. "This is not the homo-land, this is the Holy Land," he said, decrying the planned "spiritual rape of Jerusalem." The American Rabbi said that he has accumulated the signatures of at least 40 Knesset Members - including both religious and secular parliamentarians - in a petition against the event. The Knesset will take up the issue Tuesday during a special meeting of the Interior Committee devoted to the issue. In a rare sign of interfaith cooperation, Israeli Arab parliamentarians have joined haredi and Christian leaders in issuing calls against the event, as have Islamic religious leaders, including the chief Palestinian Islamic cleric Taisser Tamimi. The prerogative for issuing permits for such public events rests with police, who could ban the move due to concerns over public safety. Both opponents and supporters of the event have inundated police with letters and faxes on the issue, officials said. Meanwhile, organizers of the event, who have the support of scores of non-Orthodox Jewish religious leaders, reiterated Sunday that they are determined to hold the international event in Jerusalem next month. "The World pride event will take place in Jerusalem because we believe Jerusalem should be a center of tolerance, pluralism, and humanity. Unfortunately, there are those who prefer Jerusalem to be fanatical, dark, pursuing strife and hatred," said Noa Sattath, chairperson of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center which is hosting the event. She ruled out any change of venue for the event, as some Knesset members have suggested as part of a compromise solution. In a largely conservative city, with a strong religious and traditional makeup, the idea of holding such an international parade in Jerusalem is seen by many city residents -- even outside of religious circles -- as out of touch with both the spiritual character of the city as well as the sensitivities of its observant residents. A public opinion poll released last year found that three-quarters of Jerusalem residents were opposed to holding the international gay event in the city, while only a quarter supported it. The last international gay parade, which took place in Rome in 2000 despite the wrath of the Vatican, attracted about half a million participants, while local organizers expect tens of thousands of revelers for the Jerusalem event this summer. The six-day event is slated to include street parties, workshops, and a gay film festival.