Pride in the capital

Woe to any society that curtails the freedom of expression.

gay pride flag 88 (photo credit: )
gay pride flag 88
(photo credit: )
The "Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance March for Infinite Love" is scheduled to take place this Thursday. Starting out at Independence Park, participants will parade down King David Street, winding up at the Liberty Bell Garden, where they will hold a rally to demand equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. What appeared last week to make this year's gay pride parade different from its predecessors was the surprising decision on the part of the Edah Haredit, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, to ignore - rather than protest - the event they consider so abhorrent. Haredi insiders say spontaneous demonstrations could still erupt, but there will be no call on the part of the Edah Haredit to prevent the LGBTs from marching. The haredi decision does not constitute a newfound tolerance for homosexuality. Rather, it was tactical: based on the fact that this year's parade is local in nature, unlike the 2006 "World-Pride" event, which drew participants from other countries. Furthermore, haredi leaders have had second thoughts about exposing yeshiva students, even if in protest, to the "depraved" gay scene. JERUSALEM Open House Executive Director Yonatan Gher nevertheless expressed appreciation for the decision, attributing it in part to his own regular meetings with leaders of the haredi community during the pre-parade period - meetings, he told The Jerusalem Post, that were held "for the purpose of reaching better understanding of the issues and sensitivities on both sides, to help deflate the tension and violence which accompanied the march in the past years, and led to the 2005 stabbing of three parade participants by a haredi man." This dialogue purported to be a welcome development for the police, who have their job cut out for them prior to and during such controversial rallies. (Since the first gay parade in 2002, twice the police requested that the LGBT postpone or cancel their planned event for security reasons not connected to the parade, and both times the LGBT honored the request. The first was in 2005, when the parade was going to coincide with disengagement, and the police were going to be otherwise occupied carrying out the evacuation of settlements in Gaza and northern Samaria; the second was the following year, with the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.) Unfortunately, however, it appears that the "cease-fire" accord was not as uniformly accepted as it first appeared. Taking his cue from extremist counterparts in the United States, Rabbi Moshe Sternbach, one of the senior rabbinical leaders of the Edah Haredit, last week rejected the decision by the organization not to stir up trouble before or during the parade, asserting it a duty to "prevent the abomination." Though Sternbach represents a small, more extreme, sector of the haredi community, this is a shame, to say the least, and one that raises the question as to whom to blame for the escalation of tensions. IT HAS been argued that "Jerusalem isn't Tel Aviv," and that flaunting an issue as delicate as sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular - in a city deemed holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims the world over - is insensitive at best. Indeed, this is one of very few issues that Orthodox Jews and Muslims actually agree upon in this volatile region. It has been suggested that the LGBT community might want to rethink its insistence on exercising its right to freedom of speech in this particular venue in this particular way - though Gher claims it is precisely sensitivity that is behind the form this year's march is taking, one he argues is far less flamboyant than that of Tel Aviv, and which stresses human rights over sexuality. Hence, it's new name. Whatever its name, however, its essence is clear to offended opponents. But there is a larger issue at stake here. Though Jerusalem may be the city of the Kotel and the Kolel, the Stations of the Cross and the Aksa Mosque, it is also the vibrant, cosmopolitan, international capital - attracting residents and tourists to its concerts, films, fireworks, cafes and pubs - of a pluralistic democracy that prides itself on freedom of expression. Woe to this and any society that curtails such freedom.