4,000 march for gay rights in J'lem, almost no violence

Published: July 28, 2011

With rainbow flags waving and drums beating, more than 4,000 people marched in Jerusalem’s 10th annual Pride and Tolerance parade, which took place with almost no incidents or violence.

The gay rights activists were joined by other groups who have taken to the streets in the current “season of protests,” including social workers, students, doctors, and tent protesters.

“This is one day of the year that we can march through the streets exactly who we are and the way we are, and we’re marching hand in hand with many of Israel’s struggling communities,” said Yonatan Gher, the executive director of the Open House, which organized the march. The theme of the march was “Intertwined Paths,” honoring the way the gay struggle has merged with popular struggles for equal rights, housing, minimum wage and other social issues. The theme was chosen four months ago, but is especially resonant given the current tent protests sweeping the country, which are entering their second week.

The event, which has been plagued by violence from extremists in the past, went off almost without incident. Next to Paris Square near the Prime Minister’s residence, eight people gathered to protest the parade. Police kept them across the intersection and most of the marchers did not notice them. One haredi counter-demonstrator was arrested after throwing bags at the marchers with what seemed to be stink bombs.

Gher told the Post that for the past four years, gay rights leaders have been in “discreet negotiations” with the ultra-Orthodox community before the march. Since through the discussions haredi leaders came to the conclusion that anti-parade riots only draw more attention to the issue, demonstrations and violence have noticeably diminished, said Gher.

“They realized this has nothing to do with them, and our march is not about sexual identity versus religious identity, but is about our identity as Jerusalemites to march in this city,” Gher added.

“We are marching under a flag of equality for us and a flag of social justice for everyone in Israeli society,” said MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), the second openly-gay Knesset member, as he addressed the crowds before the march started in Independence Park. “This parade is a symbol for this city that there are people that want to turn it into Tehran. But we will march under our flag to say that Jerusalem is free and will stay free and equal forever,” he said.

Merav Cohen, a Jerusalem city councilor who has been one of the leaders of the tent protest in Jerusalem, announced early on Thursday that the tent protest would join the gay pride march. Dozens of social workers and representatives from the doctor’s strike also took part.

“The last few weeks, we’ve really been feeling the social struggle and it really feels like things are changing,” said 24-year-old Meretz activist Chen Ozeri, who has attended every pride march since he was 16. “Every time I get excited again, and am encouraged by all the people here,” he said. “We’re marching to the Knesset for a reason – the government needs to take us seriously because we’re part of the country and they haven’t done anything for our community since it was founded, they need to wake up,” he said.

As if it weren’t enough that three separate protests converged on Jerusalem Thursday afternoon – the doctor’s march, the tent protest, and the Gay pride parade – police stopped a procession of four donkeys and a few dozen extreme right-wing demonstrators at the entrance to the city. The demonstrators were attempting to get to the route of the annual Pride and Tolerance parade with the donkeys, to protest the "bestial" nature of homosexuality. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe a few minutes away, a few hundred haredim – many of them passersby and children – held a protest against the march at Kikar Hashabat, in the heart of the capital’s ultra-Orthodox zone.

While the event was called for 4:30, only a handful of people showed up at the intersection, but to Rabbi Ephraim Holtzberg, one of the organizers, “even if ten people show up – at least we will have fulfilled our obligation to protest.”

“This is not San Francisco, the capital for homosexuals. This is the Holy City, and the event is a provocation against the entire world, all the religions, and God,” he said.

Regarding the fact that so few people had showed up at the initial stage of the protest, Holtzberg said that “we are being battled by very powerful people, who tore down all our posters, and put up false ones with the wrong time on them.” He would not say who these parties were.

The leading haredi rabbinic leadership, while opposed to the notion of the gay pride march, are also against holding protest events that would draw attention to the phenomenon of homosexuality. When confronted with that angle, which might explain the meager attendance at his protest, Holtzberg first said that they were “not directly addressing the issue [of homosexuality] itself,” rather a broader variety of problems, but then proceeded to tell a joke to illustrate just how ignorant the haredi society is of homosexuality and the pride march.

“A haredi boy asks his father – Abba, do you know what the Gay Pride March is? The father immediately replies – no, I don’t. The boy pats him knowingly on the shoulder and says – good, better you don’t know.”

The event, which included impassioned speeches by Holtzberg and Rabbi Arie Shechter, among others, ended with the attendants wearing sack, sitting on the road and reading the Tikkun Hatzot, a lamentation text focusing on the destruction of the Temples.

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