Showdown looms over global gay event in J'lem [pg. 4]

The Jerusalem Municipality will do "everything in its power" to ensure that a controversial international gay pride festival will not take place in the city this summer, a senior city official said Sunday. "There will not be any international gay parade in Jerusalem," Deputy Mayor Eli Simchayof said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "We will do everything in our power to see that this does not happen," he added. The planned international gay festival, which was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed until August due to last summer's 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 affront and provocation to millions of believers. Despite widespread city opposition, organizers reiterated Sunday that they were determined to hold the event, setting the stage for a showdown in the city this summer. "It has been proven in court that the city of Jerusalem has no legal ability to stop freedom of expression," said Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center which is hosting the event. The deputy mayor's comments came as organizers of Tel Aviv's annual gay parade announced that they were canceling that city's local event for the first time in a decade in order to take part in the international Jerusalem festival. "We thought that all our resources and energies should be directed towards one big international event," said Mike Hamel, the chairperson of the National Association of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender in Israel. The idea of holding such an event in Jerusalem is seen by many - even outside of religious circles - as out of touch with both the spiritual character of the city and the sensitivities of its observant and largely conservative population. A public opinion poll released last year year found that three-quarters of Jerusalem residents were opposed to holding the international gay event in the city. Despite the deputy mayor's bravado, the extent of the city's power to block the parade is unclear, since the prerogative for issuing permits for marches and other public events in the country rests with the police - although the municipality can ban marchers from public parks. Amid heightened tensions in the city over plans for an international gay parade, last year's local Jerusalem gay parade was marred by violence after a haredi attacker stabbed three participants. The assailant was sentenced to 12 years in prison. 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 six-day event in Jerusalem this summer which is slated to include street parties, workshops and a gay film festival.