Thousands attend J'lem pride parade

Haredim protest march; demonstrator detained for holding insulting sign; 2,000 police secure event.

gay parade 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
gay parade 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
At least 2,000 people marched Thursday in Jerusalem's gay pride parade. The event, which has repeatedly riled religious city residents and caused friction in the past, was mostly uneventful. Some two hours before the parade, police detained a haredi man for holding an insulting sign against the parade. Several hundred demonstrators protested the parade in Kikar Hashabbat, far from the event's route. Several dumpsters were set ablaze in haredi neighborhoods. The annual march, which is organized by Jerusalem's gay and lesbian center, the Open House, was approved by the High Court of Justice this week over the opposition of City Hall. The court has repeatedly ruled in favor of the parade, despite the vehement opposition of the haredi public and Christian and Muslim religious leaders, who view such a parade as an abomination and anathema to core biblical values. Supporters of the parade counter that freedom of speech enables them to hold the event in Jerusalem as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism, even if theirs is the view of the minority of city residents. The parade route ran about four city blocks, slightly longer than last year's march. It kicked off from the city's Independence Park and continued up King David Street to Liberty Bell Park, where an evening rally capped off the event. As in years past, security was extremely tight, with 2,000 police officers manning the streets under the command of Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco to prevent any altercations, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. The Eda Haredit had decided to refrain from demonstrating against the parade, in an effort to minimize the event's publicity. On Wednesday, an envelope containing an unidentified white powder arrived at the office of an openly gay city councilman. The envelope, which was sent to Meretz city councilman Sa'ar Netanel, also included a newspaper article about the parade, Ben-Ruby said. "I am used to these threats because of the Gay Pride Parade," Netanel said. The parade has been the source of repeated debate, with many religious city councilors and a significant number of largely traditional residents considering such an event inappropriate for a "holy" city. In years past, opposition to the parade has even united the major religious leaders in Jerusalem, producing a rare interfaith accord among Jews, Christians and Muslims. In contrast, Jerusalem's tiny Conservative and Reform movements have voiced their support for the event. An annual gay pride parade also takes place in Tel Aviv. The Open House, which is heavily funded by American Jewish federations, has held five previous gay parades in Jerusalem. Most Jerusalemites say they are supportive of the gay community, but prefer the parade be held elsewhere because the event is too offensive to too many people. "They don't have to do it here," art dealer Ariel Atia told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "There's no reason to make problems - there are enough problems without them," he said, adding that the parade should be held in Tel Aviv. "I would prefer that it not be here," said Smadar Shunim, who is currently doing her national service. "I don't have anything against these people, but I don't think that it's appropriate because it's important for all religions to keep Jerusalem a holy place and not have this provocation." She added, "If they want the population to accept them, they shouldn't go against what the people want." Liv Storset, a volunteer from Norway who has been living in Israel for three months, said she was very upset that the parade was occurring in Jerusalem. "Personally I'm a Christian, and in the word of God, it's sin. This is a holy place, so according to this, [the parade] is wrong," Storset said. Still, other Jerusalemites said the gay community should be allowed freedom of expression without fear of violence or intolerance. "If it's a religious city, it doesn't mean everyone shouldn't be able to express themselves," said Haifa native Lian Agbbaria, a student at Hebrew University. "I don't understand why people should be offended. It's about free choice." Olga Blyudin, a worker at Bank Leumi in the city, said, "It doesn't change if the parade is in Jerusalem or in another city. It's the city of religious people, but Jerusalem is for all the people in the world."