Take the struggle off the streets

Even if violence is successfully averted, an alternative route for the parade does not resolve the cultural clash that underlies this controversy.

The compromise reached between Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and the police over the impending Jerusalem Gay Pride March, under which an alternative route will be found for the event, seems to strike a reasonable balance between security concerns and the need to protect freedom of speech. Even if violence is successfully averted, however, such a compromise does not address, much less resolve, the cultural clash that underlies this controversy. Though the marchers clearly have specific concerns about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, they assert their main purpose is to advance the legitimacy of a homosexual lifestyle through changes to the traditional conception of the family. A key objective of the gay rights movement is for families led by single-sex couples to be legally and socially recognized in the same way that traditional families are. Lost in much of the debate over the parade is the fact that Israel is one of the countries that has gone furthest in legally establishing such gay rights. In 1994, the High Court of Justice upheld lower court decisions that forced El Al to provide standard spousal benefits (such as free tickets) to the same-sex partner of an employee. In 2000, the High Court recognized a lesbian as the adoptive mother of the four-year-old son of her same-sex partner and ordered the Interior Ministry to register the adoption. In 2001, the same court overturned rulings by the Haifa District Rabbinical Court and the Chief Rabbinical Court forbidding a woman from allowing her children to spend time with her lesbian partner. The debate over whether and when traditional notions of family and the laws that flow from them should be changed is a legitimate one. There is no doubt, moreover, that the gay community has the right to participate in this debate, including through marches and other standard forms of political and social activity. It is equally clear that the attempt to violently suppress such classic expressions of freedom of speech is unacceptable. It is not enough for leaders of the haredi community to say they oppose such violence, but "cannot control" such outbursts of burning tires and public property. We cannot forget that during the last such march, a haredi man stabbed and wounded three marchers. We do not hear the haredi leaders saying clearly enough that the use of violence is a much greater violation of Jewish law than that advocated by the marchers. Ironically, the extreme reaction of the haredi community is, if anything, generating more sympathy for the cause of the marchers than the event's organizers could have dreamed of. Haredi extremism also serves to obscure the fact that those opposing the march are not just extremists. Just as the marchers object to religious opposition to their way of life, it should not be surprising - nor automatically condemned as "homophobia" - for religious or secular people to consider the march a provocation against religion in general and the traditional family in particular. While the marchers advocate tolerance, the assertion of "pride" in what the Torah calls an "abomination" can also be regarded as a violation of the classic liberal principle of "live and let live." It was not the religious community that sought a conflict with the gay community, but the latter that is willing to spark conflict in an attempt to change the status quo. In such a situation, it is entirely possible for all sides to come out losers. At the end of the day, in a democracy, laws should be changed on the basis of considered debate in the legislature, not by power struggles in the streets. By resorting to violence, the haredim are squandering a perhaps rare opportunity in which the majority might be naturally inclined to their side, provided it is seen as defending traditional definitions of family. By pressing their right to march, in Jerusalem of all places, the gay community could actually be poisoning efforts to quietly achieve reasonable advances through legislation, which ultimately depend on winning over widespread public support.