Gay parade sashays through capital
By Abe Selig
Despite a backdrop of counterprotests and memories of the violence of years past, rainbow-colored flags and a crowd of a few thousand people made their way through the central streets of Jerusalem on Thursday as the annual Gay Pride Parade went off without a hitch.
Marches in previous years have seen livid protests by haredi and right-wing groups, which have sometimes escalated into violent confrontations and even stabbings. Thursday’s march, however, was relatively subdued, with small counterprotests taking place away from the parade route, and the parade itself purposely avoiding residential areas.
Still, some bystanders seemed irked - less by the parade itself than by its location, Jerusalem, which is heavily religious and politically conservative.
"It doesn’t fit the city," one man said as he gawked at the participants making their way down Rehov Agron. "They’re just provoking people for no reason."
But marchers categorically rejected that sentiment, saying it was more important to march in Jerusalem than in liberal Tel Aviv or other cities with less opposition to the parade’s message.
"To make real progress, you march in places that aren’t necessarily receptive," said Jason Edelstein, a student from America who is in Israel for the year. "I think about the civil rights movement in the states, and the way they marched for their rights - not just in California, but in Alabama."
The parade, which represented Israel’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population, saw an outpouring of support from both participants, who came from all over the country, and bystanders, including tourists who came out of their hotels along the parade route to watch the goings-on.
One such group, the Goodman family from Austin, Texas, was surprised at the parade’s tone, which was mostly respectful and scaled-down compared to similar parades in New York or Los Angeles.
"There are no floats," said the family’s mother, sounding somewhat surprised. "It’s kind of unexpected, but I think it’s good - it expresses free speech."
"It’s pretty interesting," said another tourist, a woman on a trip with her temple from Washington. "I think it’s good that they’re marching for their rights."
But some locals seemed less impressed, with one elderly woman calling the parade "unnecessary" and lamenting that public transportation in the area was cut off.
Another man, a Jerusalemite who would not give his name, said, "Why do I need to know what other people are doing in their beds? They should give this land back to the Muslims, at least they know how to respect it."
However, the majority of bystanders seemed fine with the parade’s message, and participants took a soft stance, singing songs for Jerusalem and marching under banners calling for "free love."
Beginning at Independence Park, the parade marched down Rehov Agron and went on to King David Street before concluding with a rally at Liberty Park.
Some 2,000 security personnel were on the scene, a sharp contrast to the more than 10,000 deployed last year. Only one arrest was reported, and counter-protesters were not visible along the parade’s route.
"I haven’t seen any trouble," said one policewoman who was manning a roadblock. "I haven’t seen one sign, or any protesters. It’s best that way, no?"
But a different story was unfolding nearby, as right-wing activist Baruch Marzel and a handful of haredi protesters hung banners in Paris Square and yelled slogans at participants who were leaving the concluding rally.
"They should do this outside of Israel," Marzel said. "They’re sick people and their sickness should be treated, not flaunted."
A passing taxi stopped at the square and the driver yelled out, "Way to go Baruch Marzel!"
Nonetheless, the event organizers claimed victory at the concluding rally, lauding participants for being part of the first Jerusalem parade without violence or serious incident. A man dressed in full drag took the stage and applauded marchers for their support.
"I’m so happy we were able to walk down the central streets of Jerusalem and express our pride," he said. "Pride that we’re here, and tolerance, because we accept everyone."