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Battle Lines Drawn in Jerusalem As Date Nears for Gay Pride March

July 12, 2006
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Rare is the event that can rally devout Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel toward a common goal. Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 is such an event — but not in the way its organizers intended. While Jews and Arabs in the Knesset disagree passionately over the fate of a kidnapped Israeli soldier and Israel’s incursion into Gaza, many of the same Parliament members are firmly united in opposition to next month’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

The parade is part of a weeklong WorldPride event slated to begin Aug. 6, and which is expected to draw well more than 10,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and their supporters from around the world.

WorldPride organizers say they’ll proclaim in Jerusalem that love has no borders. Opponents, however, say that love needs borders and that the holy city must not be defiled.

“It is forbidden for us to give legitimacy to this parade,” said Knesset Member Nissim Zeev of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas Party, who compares holding the parade in Jerusalem to bringing a pig inside the holy Temple.

“It’s cultural terror that wants to take control of society and our youth and wants to change the accepted way of life and the way that” God intended, he said.

Police officials in Jerusalem are considering canceling the Aug. 10 march based on security concerns. A final decision is expected to be made by Jerusalem District Police Chief Ilan Franco and Israeli Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi in the coming weeks, a police spokeswoman said.

The international controversy has sparked grass-roots efforts around the world in favor of and against the event, and has reached the highest echelons of Israeli politics.

An anonymous flyer offering a reward of some $4,500 for murdering a WorldPride participant was distributed in some Jerusalem mailboxes and is under criminal investigation, Ha’aretz reported Tuesday.

Despite the potential for violence, WorldPride organizers say they have no intention of relocating or canceling the march.

“Jerusalem is a global symbol and it has an immense depth of meaning for many people from around the globe, and for many” lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered “people from around the world,” said Noa Sattath, chairwoman of Jerusalem Open House, which is organizing Jerusalem WorldPride 2006. “Holding the event in Jerusalem in my eyes will not decrease its holiness but increase it, in promoting the values of tolerance and pluralism in Jerusalem that are so valued here.”

There’s no legal basis for canceling the parade, and legal action would likely be taken if it were canceled, Sattath said.

In a failed effort Monday to pass a no-confidence vote and bring down the government over the issue, Knesset Member Yitzhak Levi of the National Union-National Religious Party urged the government to intervene to prevent the march from taking place in Jerusalem.

Levi collected signatures from 50 legislators who oppose the event, and said he believes a majority of the 120-member Knesset is opposed, he said.

“They don’t want it to happen in Jerusalem, for religious reasons, for emotional reasons or because Jerusalem has a certain kind of character,” Levi said Monday on the Knesset floor.

“It’s very rare that here there are Knesset members from all the parties — religious, secular and Jewish and Arab,” who agree on an issue, he added.

Religious people of all faiths are united against holding the parade in Jerusalem, said Ibrahim Sarsur, who heads the United Arab List-Ta’al and is president of the Islamic movement in Israel.

“Such marches may endanger the morals of the generations of all religions,” Sarsur said. “We want our generations to be protected from such a disease, which may deteriorate their way of behavior, their families.”

But others argue that precisely because of the opposition, the event must be held in Jerusalem — the capital of all Israeli citizens, not just the religious ones.

“Democracy is about the rights of minorities, and we have to protect the rights of minorities,” said lawmaker Shelly Yacimovich of the Labor Party. “It’s very important that the march happens in Jerusalem because Jerusalem is for everybody, for religious people, for secular people, and for gays and lesbians. It’s not about their private lives, but about their right to be seen. It’s a political struggle.”

Education Minister Yuli Tamir agreed, saying it’s up to police to protect the marchers from any threats.

“Otherwise any person that doesn’t want something to happen will threaten violence, and that will be dangerous,” she said.

According to a survey commissioned by Levi and conducted in June, 69 percent of Jerusalem residents are against hosting the parade, while 12 percent support it. The remainder said they did not have an opinion or didn’t answer the question.

First celebrated in Rome in 2000, the WorldPride event initially was scheduled for last summer in Jerusalem but was postponed because of the Gaza withdrawal last August, which already was dividing the country.

Jerusalem did host a local gay pride march last June that organizers said attracted about 10,000 people from around the country. Three participants were stabbed by a fervently Orthodox man, who received a 12-year prison sentence, according to media reports.

Prominent Jerusalem-based Christian ministries also have weighed in on the debate. Bridges For Peace, Christian Friends of Israel and the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem issued a joint statement last month claiming that “Jerusalem has been deliberately targeted not because it has any particular significance to the gay and lesbian community, but because of the supreme importance the city holds for those of biblical faith.”

Jerusalem City Councilwoman Mina Fenton, along with a group of Orthodox women who call themselves Mothers for the Preservation of Family Values, has helped collect signatures of people opposed to the march in recent weeks.

Fenton said she’ll give the petition with “tens of thousands” of signatures to the Jerusalem police chief this week. If police don’t cancel the event, opponents will hold a counterdemonstration, she said.

While 24 of 31 Jerusalem city council members oppose the event, the municipality doesn’t have the authority to forbid or permit public events, Fenton said.

“We are not approaching this only as a religious issue but as a general societal issue,” said Sharon Siegel, a Jerusalem resident and mother of five who is working with Fenton to try to stop the march. “Does Jerusalem want to advocate homosexuality, give it legitimacy, see it as truly an alternate lifestyle that is just as good as anything else? Is this the way to propagate the Jewish people?”

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