In light of ongoing fighting on Israel’s northern and southern borders, organizers of an international gay pride parade that was slated to take place in Jerusalem have delayed the march indefinitely. “It’s important for us to hold the march under safe and peaceful circumstances, and obviously, at this time, due to the political circumstances in the region, that’s not the case,” said Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Jerusalem Open House, a center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people that is organizing the weeklong WorldPride 2006 event.
Police also had indicated that they might not be able to protect the three-hour event due to potentially violent opposition and Israel’s current conflicts with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinians in Gaza.
Expected to attract more than 10,000 participants from around the world, the parade sparked strong opposition among fervent Jews, Muslims and Christians who said the holy city was an inappropriate venue.
While the Aug. 10 march will not take place, about 40 other gay pride events planned for WorldPride 2006 — including a gay film festival, a health day and an interfaith conference — will take place beginning Aug. 6, organizers said. A new date for the march will be announced once fighting stops.
Police officials said anywhere from dozens to “hundreds of thousands” of protesters had intended to confront parade participants “with the goal of hurting them physically.”
Even with reinforcements from other districts, police might not have been able to allow the parade in its requested format, according to a July 20 letter to El-Ad from Jerusalem District Police Chief Ilan Franco’s office.
At the same time, due to ongoing fighting and general security concerns, “the level of vigilance has increased” and police might not permit assemblies and parades to take place. Additional intelligence that cast doubt on the police’s ability to secure the parade also had been obtained, the letter said.
Organizers suggested alternate parade routes, to no avail.
Regardless of whether the parade is held, American synagogues and Jewish groups will be sending delegations to Jerusalem for WorldPride 2006 activities.
“As long as there are planes going from New York to Tel Aviv, my synagogue is still going,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, head of New York’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, one of the largest gay synagogues in the world.
The delegation from Congregation Beth Simchat Torah is to leave Aug. 5, and will be joined in Jerusalem by other North American delegations, including one from the Philadelphia Jewish federation and San Francisco’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Opponents cheered the parade’s delay and said they would continue fighting to ensure that the event is never held in Jerusalem.
“I feel that it is a small step in the right direction,” said Rabbi Yehuda Levin of Brooklyn, who represents more than 1,000 rabbis from the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and the Rabbinical Alliance of America and who has spearheaded opposition to the event in Israel and around the world.
“I can tell you that we’re not going to be satisfied until all events associated with this, and Jerusalem Open House itself, is closed down,” he said.
Levin, who spent the past two months in Israel drumming up opposition, said he and other prominent rabbis are calling upon Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski to forbid the use of city facilities, such as the Binyanei Hauma convention center, for the gay film festival.
“It’s pornography in my book,” he said.
Research showing an alleged correlation between gay pride events and new HIV cases in those populations has been collected and is being provided to senior Israeli health officials, Levin said. He and other opponents called on the municipality “to make an emergency ruling” forbidding gay pride gatherings in Jerusalem in order to prevent what they depicted as a serious health hazard.
“I’m here to oppose the homosexualization of Israel, making this the homosexual tourist capital, pushing homosexual marriage, parades, outreach to youth,” Levin said.
Jerusalem City Councilwoman Mina Fenton, who worked with a group of Orthodox mothers to collect signatures for a petition opposing the parade, said she, too, will continue to fight such events.
“We will carry on fighting now, so that it’s never, ever in Jerusalem, any day, not even a local” parade, Fenton said. “This is our fight now, that this should be a permanent decision, not a decision for a day, for a year, for a month.”
Since 2002, Jerusalem Open House has held a local gay pride parade each year in the city. When Lupolianski attempted to ban last year’s parade, organizers went to court and secured approval days before the June 26 event.
A fervently Orthodox man was convicted to 12 years in prison for stabbing three participants at the event, which organizers say drew roughly 10,000 people from around the country.
Earlier this month, a handful of anonymous anti-parade flyers were found in the fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, offering a reward of some $4,500 for killing homosexuals.
Noa Sattath, chairwoman of Jerusalem Open House, said she was saddened by the parade’s delay but remained hopeful that the political situation would improve dramatically in coming weeks.
“I think this is a very important struggle. It’s important for us to win it,” Sattath said. “Our chances in the public eye, inside our community and within the legal system are better when there is no war going on in the background or foreground.”
Once the situation settles, he said, “I’m confident that the police, perhaps with the assistance of the Supreme Court, will reach this realization” that they’re obligated to protect freedom of speech and the public’s right to demonstrate.
Kleinbaum, who also is North American co-chairwoman of WorldPride, said “there’s no question it will be a smaller event” with the parade delayed, but the important thing is “the message that we’re bringing: Tolerance is holy.”