Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
The Many Sides of Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade
Although thousands of Israelis participated in Jerusalem’s 8th annual gay pride parade, which went off without a hitch, some signs of tension were visible. The parade ended with a small concert organized at a city centre park, which had been surrounded with high fences covered in black mesh.
Despite the cheerful singing and colourful banners, many participants who attend both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s gay pride parades, say the Israeli parade in Jerusalem, a holy city for the religious, is markedly different from a similar parade in the secular coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, held a couple of weeks ago.
One Israeli marcher said Jerusalem, as a much more politically divided city, has a very politicized pride parade: “In Tel Aviv, the Gay Pride parade is more of a party. But in Jerusalem, it’s much more political, like a protest.” Several marchers echoed this sentiment. Na’ama, a member of Bat-Kol, an organization for Orthodox Jewish lesbians, agreed, adding: “It’s not like a protest-it is a protest. I don’t want to take it for granted that I can walk here. But we also have to fight for other rights, like the right to marry. And we still have a struggle with the rest of the Orthodox community to get them to accept us.”
Across the street from the park, a small cluster of demonstrators gathered to protest the gay pride parade. Most offered rather extreme interpretations of the gravity of allowing the pride parade. Daisy Stern, holding a sign saying “No Flags of Fags Here”, said she was “protesting and fighting this horrible trend that persists in this city, which is funded and masterminded by our enemies who don’t want to see a Jewish land and this is a way to break our spirits”. One student, who joked he was protesting “to be a hardcore fundamentalist”, added: ” I’m not so much against the gay part , I’m protesting the pride part. The bible says homosexuality is an abomination. Only an abominable person would be proud about their homosexuality.” Some held up copies of the Torah, and signs offering help for homosexuals.
Statements like these may explain why many gay pride marchers said they felt no desire to start a dialogue with those who protest their events. Ori, who came from Tel Aviv for Jerusalem’s parade, said, “The demonstration annoys me but it’s not like we have something in common to talk about, or to make a dialogue. It’s two completely different worlds.” One woman, dressed in a miniskirt and fishnets, had her face covered with a scarf, saying she was protesting how her city was becoming “another Iran … Look at this, we have blacked-out fences to protect others from seeing our event”.
Antagonism ran both ways. A small group of gay pride marchers stood across the corner from anti-parade demonstrators to mock them, dressed up as clowns with devil horns. Some people headed to the parade yelled at anti-parade demonstrators to leave.
The religious dimension to the pride parade isn’t solely one of religion against homosexuality. Reform Jews such as the youth group Netzer participated in the pride parade in large numbers, to show solidarity. One member said, “We want to show that Reform Judaism is open. There’s more than one way to be Jewish. We can’t follow egalitarianism in one sense and not another.”
This year, the ultra orthodox community at large was conspicuously absent. Leaders of the Edah Haredit, which in past years held violent protests, asked their community not to demonstrate at all this year, saying they did not want to expose their youths to homosexuality. Some orthodox neighbourhoods had gatherings with demonstrators wearing sacks and covered in ash, to symbolize being in mourning.
For an interesting exploration of religiously based conflict over homosexuality, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth has an op-ed today exploring the issue.
PHOTOS:Ronen Zvulun, Darren Whiteside, Baz Ratner. Reuters, Jerusalem. June 25, 2009.