Pride and prejudice

The gay community has reached tacit understandings with the haredim over the Pride Parade, but right-wing groups are making threats.

Members and supporters of the gay community in Jerusalem will march this Thursday in the Pride Parade. The march will begin at the Liberty Bell Garden at 4 p.m. and end in Independence Park, where there will be a short ceremony hosted by the Jerusalem Drag Queens and Kings. Yonatan Gher, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House, one of the Middle East's leading LGBT (lesbian gay bi-transgender) advocacy organizations, which is organizing the event, says he expects it to proceed quietly thanks to tacit agreements reached with the haredim and despite threatening voices from right-wing groups. "This year the theme of the pride march will be the 40th anniversary of the stonewall riots of 1969 in New York, which marked the birth of the international pride movement. Through that theme we hope to be able to talk about a variety of issues related to our community other than the tension," he says. These issues include the advancements made in terms of gay rights, marriage issues, parenthood and transgender rights. Marchers hope to focus on what needs to be achieved in terms of those rights. According to estimates by the New Family organization, there are 18,000 same-sex households in Israel. "Our focus was how to have the parade without its being a catalyst to violence in the city," says Gher. The parade, held in Jerusalem since 2001, has been denounced by conservative groups in previous years. In 2005, a young haredi man attacked three people with a kitchen knife. Since then, attempts made by religious leaders to thwart the parade have failed, with the 2008 parade running relatively smoothly. Some 2,000 security personnel were on the scene, a sharp contrast to the more than 10,000 present in 2007. Only one arrest was reported, and protesters were not visible along the parade's main route. "As of last year, there has been no more controversy. Through conversations, we were able to help them [the haredim] cease their protests," Gher reports. Gher says that Open House has had a subtle relationship with the Orthodox leadership for a number of years. "They were quiet already last year. There were no mass haredi demonstrations, and that will continue. What we are aiming toward is a situation where the absence of protest is already a given - that's no longer the issue we are dealing with. "The haredim thought they had ownership of Jerusalem," Gher continues. "What we are doing this year is explaining that the issue has nothing to do with them. We are not holding [gay] pride events in Jerusalem because of them but because we are a part of this city, and we want to have to the visibility we deserve as residents of the city." Gher does, however, recognize that some form of opposition may arise, "The only thing we sometimes hear about is noise from the direction of the Kahanists," he says. Baruch Marzel of the Jewish National Front party, a vociferous protester against the parade in previous years, has already begun organizing this year's opposition. He and others marched from Kikar Zion on Sunday to Jerusalem Open House in protest of the march. "Some 50 people attended. We went to say that we think the holy city of Jerusalem doesn't have to have certain parades like this one. I think this is one of the biggest dangers of Western culture today. People are taking a disease that someone has and are marching for it. This is not healthy," Marzel told In Jerusalem. Marzel plans to protest the parade on Thursday beginning at 3 p.m. in Jerusalem's Paris Square. "We'll do anything we can. We can't stop the parade, but thousands of police will come. We think the mayor, the rabbis and the government need to stop it. Everyone who cares about Jerusalem should stop it, and everyone who cares about the Jewish people. We should build a family according to Jewish tradition. In the Torah it is written that the Land of the Israel will spew us out of here if we do those things. This is not Amsterdam and this is not Milan, this is Jerusalem," Marzel asserts. But Jerusalem Open House is not worried. "They [Marzel and supporters] usually announce that they are doing something, but we don't take them seriously, " says Gher.