Jerusalem: An open house?
Jerusalem: An open house?
Five months from now, thousands of people from all over the world are expected to gather in Jerusalem, united by a vision of community instead of conflict, a celebration of diversity instead of the blind repetition of dogma.
Together with Jerusalemites, both Arabs and Jews, they plan to make a global statement for love, tolerance, and pride. A city often absorbed in bitter disputes will get a chance to be seen in the context of an optimistic future. Boosting tourism, providing an alternative to total immersion in this summer’s disengagement plan, and enjoying some unique cultural, religious, and personal experiences are also part of the deal.
Five years after Rome WorldPride 2000, the global title is scheduled to come to Jerusalem this August. Organized for the fourth consecutive year by the Jerusalem Open House, the city’s annual gay pride festival promises to be transformed into an event truly befitting what Jerusalem should be: a world city.
Jerusalem is a powerful symbol for people the world over. But is it a symbol of religious fanaticism or "a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7)? Is it a city where different ethnic and national communities are becoming more and more segregated, or a place where diverse people can come together? In essence, the conversation with regard to Jerusalem WorldPride is simply providing us with an early opportunity to discuss an even broader issue, relevant to all those who love Jerusalem: what should Jerusalem be?
For those behind the recent "Homosexuals to desecrate Jerusalem" campaign, Jerusalem is holy as long as certain sets of people are excluded, or at least made invisible. For them, Jerusalem’s sanctity lies with the not-so-delicate act of categorizing people and deciding who should be left out. Pride is simply a provocation and protecting Jerusalem from it should not be considered an additional step down the exclusionary ladder, but rather a further refinement of the city’s "holiness."
There is nothing provocative about the celebration of humanistic, democratic values in Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is provocative to proclaim that a city is somehow holier by shunning people. Even more so, it is shameful to be attempting to do so in the name of two of the world’s great monotheistic religions.
What brings an American Evangelical leader, a Sephardi haredi Knesset member, and a New York rabbi together? No, this is not the beginning of a joke. Rather, it is the manifestation of how powerful a coalition fear and prejudice can be. A coalition of fundamentalist Christians and Jews has joined hands in an attempt to yet further monopolize their interpretation of the meaning of Jerusalem.
At first glance, the crude Evangelical intervention can be written off as an effort to export their hateful domestic United States politics, a misguided attempt at the globalization of bigotry. Such merchandise will likely find little sympathy amongst Israelis, who are intuitively suspicious of a Shas-new Christian Coalition. However, in the unholy Israeli marriage between religion and politics, there is always room for surprise.
Finally, it is important to note the growing likelihood of WorldPride partially coinciding with the implementation of Israel’s disengagement plan. As Israelis and Palestinians move towards more peaceful times, one would assume that an international event such as WorldPride in Jerusalem would be thought of as an opportunity for reconciliation. Instead, the disengagement is being used as the excuse-du-jour for why WorldPride should not take place. It seems that the usual excuses have worn off, hence the urgent need for a new pretext.
Regardless of excuses, WorldPride in Jerusalem will not only provide us with an alternative to overdosing on disengagement mania. It will serve as a reminder of the many post-disengagement issues we must face, on the path towards building a more democratic, civic society.
Jerusalem’s gay and lesbian community is a unique example of people coming together beyond ethnic, religious, or national boundaries. At the Jerusalem Open House, this is the daily reality for Israelis and Palestinians; Christians, Muslims and Jews; gay and straight. This August, for 10 days, this will be the opportunity presented to the city at large.
Wouldn’t you want to be living in a Jerusalem where this is every day’s reality for all?
The writer is the executive director of Jerusalem’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Trans center, the Jerusalem Open House. For more information: www.worldpride.net.
This article was published on March 26, 2005 in THE JERUSALEM POST
For more information on Keshet le Israel Mission, a series of events intended for Jewish, Christian and interfaith groups and individuals, which Keshet Ga’ava: The World Congress of GLBT Jews is proud of offer during the World Pride activities: www.glbtjews.org