Marching to different tunes?

Not even all the members of the gay community are in favor of today's parade but most say that they will march proudly.

saar netanel gay flag298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
saar netanel gay flag298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite all the commotion, today's scheduled parade is not the Jerusalem's first gay pride parade. In 2002, then-mayor of Jerusalem and current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, announced at a municipal council meeting that a gay pride parade would march in Jerusalem, and that, pending police permits, it would receive the same support as all such parades receive from the municipality. The municipal council members shouted passionately and argued fervently, and Olmert closed the discussion. The parade paraded and a few haredim protested. But at parade time the following year, Jerusalem's first haredi mayor, Uri Lupolianski, had just come into office, replacing Olmert. Within the haredi milieu, Lupolianski was expected, in the words of a haredi politician, to "wipe the shame" off Jerusalem's face. But Lupolianski was unable to deliver those goods, because all of the permits and police approvals had already been issued. The 2003 gay pride parade paraded without incident. By by 2004, Lupolianski couldn't hide behind a permit granted before his time. He tried, openly and vocally, to prevent the parade, but the High Court of Justice forced his hand, ruling that the parade should be allowed and that the municipality had to provide funds to the organizers. This time, Lupolianski was enraged. In an exclusive radio interview with this reporter, the mayor declared that "homosexuality is an abomination and a kind of disease," and that he would do his "utmost to prevent the parade." And so the 2004 parade paraded without incident, too. The turning point came when, Sa'ar Netanel, a member of the Open House, an openly-declared homosexual and a city council member (Meretz), declared that the 2005 parade would be an international parade. In retrospect, Netanel says, "I believe that was the drop that caused the glass to overflow." A then and current haredi member of the city council agrees. "The idea that homosexuals from all over the world would swarm over our Holy City was unbearable," But the internationals didn't come. Due to the disengagement from Gaza, the 2005 parade was postponed and was demoted to local status. But this parade did not parade without incident. Three marchers were stabbed. Neither the gay community nor the haredi community are pleased with Lupolianski's performance in this regard. Some haredi politicians view Lupolianski's inability to cancel the parade as proof that a haredi mayor will never meet the haredi community's expectations. And indeed, on Tuesday evening, while visiting Rabbi Shalom Eliashiv in his apartment in Mea She'arim, Lupolianski and his deputy, Yehoshua Pollack, were attacked by a mob and were evacuated only thanks to police intervention. On Wednesday, an ad hoc group of haredi women, speaking on Israeli radio, called for Lupolianski's resignation, since, they said, "Lupolianski cannot protect Jerusalem from these abominations." In the gay community, there is a strong belief that Lupolianski's harsh words against them led, at least in part, to the stabbings. Says Netanel, "There is little doubt that Lupolianski's incitement and then the stabbings last year have helped to create the escalation in the reactions to the parade this year." This year's parade was also supposed to be an international parade, part of a week-long celebration intended to include art exhibits, lectures, performances and happenings. It was originally scheduled for August 15th and was postponed yet again, this time due to the second Lebanon war. And so, again thanks to intervention by the High Court of Justice, the parade was finally scheduled for today, November 10. Much of the support for the parade has come from Progressive (Reform) Jewish communities in Israel and abroad. At a press conference earlier this week, Rabbi Dr. Yehoyada Amir, head of the Israeli division of the Reform Rabbinical College, quoted Ecclesiastes and warned that "God will watch out for the persecuted." Support from the Masorti (Conservative) movement has been less clear-cut, although the movement did issue a statement that the movement "is against all forms of violence and incitement to violence." Late this week, as he considers that the internationalization of the parade may be one of the reasons for the high level of violence, Netanel says, "Maybe the internationalization was not such a good idea. But I still believe that it is our right to strive for acknowledgement and for the legitimization of our existence and our rights, and the parade provides a wonderful occasion to present to the world Jerusalem's other face - an open, democratic, and pluralistic face." Noa Sattath, the recently appointed director of the Open House, is considered by many within and without the gay community to be the main force behind the strident position that the gay community has adopted with regard to the parade. "Gay citizens of Jerusalem are part of the city and thus should not be hidden," Sattath declares. "I live here and I love this city and it is my right to walk freely through its streets, not hidden and not frightened." She then adds, "The gay community is threatened. Our rights are jeopardized and the parade is a means to save and protect us and our rights." Not all in the gay community agree. Speaking anonymously, a young man says, "Many members of the Open House, especially those who do not hold any official job, are becoming more and more reluctant about the parade. The general feeling is that this has gone too far, and that this kind of stubbornness could end up being too costly in terms of hatred and prejudice against the community. Quiet work would serve us better." Like most members of the community, Ilanit, a 24-year-old Open House activist, says that she will march today. "I don't think we needed this parade but the violent opposition has made me say that I will march. And I really resent all the gays in Tel Aviv who say that they want us to be holy here in Jerusalem, while they live a 'free' life in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is special, Jerusalem is different, but Jerusalem is my home, too, and I'm a lesbian." Then she adds, "People are afraid to say that they oppose the parade, because of the militant atmosphere that's been created at the Open House. But the purpose of a parade is to create visibility - and the gay community has already done that, even here in Jerusalem. We have an openly gay member on the municipal council. There are gay officials and gay MKs and gay performers. We've won that battle, so the parade is unnecessary." Sattath responds to her critics, "I am aware of the different positions held by the gay community, especially those in Tel Aviv. It's their right, but we, the gay community and members of the Open House in Jerusalem, think differently. We took this decision through a vote. The parade is a critical means to ensure the democratic rights of all the communities in Jerusalem, not only the gay community." But the man speaking anonymously says, "The leadership of the Open House has gone too far, maybe even losing contact with reality. Many members feel the same, but will not dare to say it openly, since we are a persecuted group." So do these voices point to dissonance and disagreements within the gay community in Jerusalem? And what will happen to these differing views and strategies after the dust of the parade settles? Not surprisingly, the answers depend on who is answering which question. "Of course there are critics and differences of opinion," admits Netanel. He himself was very involved earlier this week in the failed attempts to reach a compromise with the haredim, according to which the parade would be canceled and, in exchange, MKs representing the haredi parties would not oppose Knesset legislation aimed at improving gay rights. Netanel says that the critics from the Tel Aviv community, who insist that Jerusalem is "special" and should therefore not host the parade, "belong to another generation. They approved the parade until the situation became chaotic and now they suggest that we withdraw from it. "Opponents of the parade want us to stay hidden, closed in our houses and bedrooms. I want to be seen. I do not want to remain transparent. "Yes, we should have a discussion about how we conduct ourselves and the methods we use, but of one thing I am sure: I do not want to disappear anymore," Netanel says. Regarding conclusions for the near future, Netanel adds that he expects that, "Within at most a couple of weeks, we should find a way to reestablish a dialogue with anyone from the opposing side who will agree to talk. We have to do our best to quench the flames, long before we reach the date of the next annual gay pride parade."