Anti-war Protest and Scuffles with Cops Mar Gay-pride Event

War may be raging in the North, but it’s not the only issue roiling Israel. A rally Thursday by the organizers of Jerusalem World Pride, a week-long gay-pride event, turned sour when police and anti-war demonstrators scuffled.

According to Jerusalem Open House, which organized the event, the “Protest Against Hatred — Continuing to Live — Continuing to Love” rally was a “protest against the hatred and ongoing incitement that has been targeted at our community in the name of religion.”

However, a group of 40 to 50 protesters demonstrating against the war in Lebanon drew attention away from the gay-rights issue.

Protesters scurried in all directions when scuffles with police ensued.

“The police started provoking us, pushing, stepping on and kicking people,” claimed Yaron Schweizer, a representative of Queeruption, the group that staged the anti-war demonstration.

Some participants felt the anti-war demonstrators had hijacked what was intended as a peaceful event. Lebanese flags were waved alongside Israeli ones, while banners called for a halt to the war in Lebanon.

Some protestors chanted “Israel is a fascist state.” However, as one participant who preferred to remain anonymous said, “If Israel were a fascist state, they’d all have bullets through their heads. The fact that they’re able to protest is proof of Israel’s democracy.”

“This was a misguided attempt by a small group of individuals to try to cynically use the event to express messages that are not related to what this protest was about,” said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Jerusalem Open House.

A spokesman for Israel Police headquarters said two people were brought in for questioning on suspicion of disturbing public order. Police denied that they used unnecessary force.

The rally was held even though police denied organizers a permit, and after a planned World Pride March through the capital was cancelled because of the war.

The planned march had elicited opposition from Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem. Posters recently were distributed in Jerusalem’s fervently Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood offering a $4,500 reward to “whoever causes the death of one of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

That tension, and the war in the North, played a part in the event’s low turn-out. Yet despite original estimates that 20,000 would attend World Pride, organizers said they weren’t disappointed.

“It’s not an easy decision to travel to this part of the world, especially considering the almost impossible circumstances under which this event has taken place,” El-Ad said.

Rabbi Mark Solomon of the London Liberal Jewish Synagogue was one of hundreds of people who traveled from overseas, despite the war and the cancellation of the march.

“The rally was a provocative move,” he said. “However, it’s an assertion that Jerusalem is a free city, for everyone, not just for the ultra-Orthodox.”

Queeruption’s Schweizer dismissed criticism of the anti-war protest.

“Today was an opportunity for all people to stand together. It is very sad that this is happening at a time of war, but the two issues are not separate,” he said.

“We understand claims that we hijacked today’s event,” he said. “But we are all a part of the rainbow, with many colors in it. The issue of social justice in the Middle East has been hijacked by claims of security. However, security is not the only issue here.”

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