This past Thursday, a gay pride parade took place in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. This year’s theme was “One community. Many faces.” The parade takes place annually and never fails to stir controversy and provoke strong feelings. Although Tel Aviv has hosted an annual gay pride parade for almost 30 years, Jerusalem’s first was in 2002.
An estimated 10,000-15,000 people participated in the event, amidst heavy security. Nearly 50 arrests occurred throughout. Likud member and newly-installed justice minister, Amir Ohana, is the Knesset’s first openly gay cabinet member, and he marched in the parade.
Why Does This Matter?
- Jerusalem, the Holy City – While Israel 21c and many others have described Tel Aviv as “undoubtedly the Middle East’s LGBT capital,” the same cannot be said for Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a more conservative city, and certainly more religious. Many of its residents take religious issue with the act of homosexuality, viewing it as against Torah Law, and cannot fathom the notion of condoning it in such a public way in Judaism’s holiest city. Thus, great tension exists between Jerusalem’s different populations in this regard.
- A matter of life and death – In Jerusalem’s 2015 gay pride parade, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man killed one and wounded five others in a stabbing attack. He had been imprisoned for ten years for attempted murder at the 2005 parade, and he had just been released before repeating his actions. The tragic incident highlights just how deep people’s convictions go on this topic; the vast majority of people are not driven to such extreme action, but many residents of Jerusalem view this parade as an affront to the Torah.
- Pinkwashing? If you have not heard this term yet, it’s relevant here. In the context of LGBT rights, pinkwashing is described as the political strategy of promoting gay-friendliness in order to appear progressive and tolerant. Some have accused Israel of supporting gay rights in order to distract from what some refer to as the occupation of the Palestinian people. Ido Aharoni, former Israeli consul general in New York City, rejects this: “We are not trying to hide the conflict but broaden the conversation,” he says. “We want to create a sense of relevance with other communities.” And famous pro-Israel advocate Professor Alan Dershowitz reminds us that “Israel is easily the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East,” whereas “in the West Bank and Gaza, by contrast, gays are murdered, tortured and forced to seek asylum.” Ofer Erez, executive director for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance said this parade had “local, national and international significance…because it is Jerusalem, it is also important to people around the world.”
- Israel as a multifarious society and the story of Justice Minister Amir Ohana – The Knesset now has five openly gay members, but Ohana is the only one on the right. This is “uncharted territory,” says Matti Friedman. Responding to those who see Ohana’s right- wing political perspectives and his sexual orientation as conflicting, Ohana wryly said before entering the Knesset in 2015, “Being attracted to men doesn’t mean you have to believe in creating a Palestinian state.” But, his right-wing bonafides did not win over the ultra-orthodox lawmakers in the Likud coalition, who “absented themselves when their new colleague took the podium.” Ohana is a microcosm of Israel’s diversity, noting, “I’m Jewish, Israeli, Mizrahi, gay, a Likudnik, a security hawk, a liberal and a believer in the free market.”
Diversity of Perspectives within Israel
On the one hand: Ahead of the parade, a right-wing conservative group, Hazon (Vision), posted billboards across the city that read: “Father+Mother=Family. The courage to be normal.” (Jerusalem’s municipality ordered the removal of all posters; the head of the city’s department for public advertising, Hagar Achdut, stated that they received many complaints about the posters and that “the content of the campaign in question could hurt the feelings of some members of the public living in Jerusalem.”) Arutz Shevareported that Mayor Moshe Leon was asked by residents of Jerusalem, “Where are law and justice?” “Are my family and I second-class citizens in this city?” Leon responded: “My dear friend, I am committed to acting according to my legal adviser’s guidelines. I am very sorry that you feel hurt. Tomorrow night all of the flags will be removed.” Some residents of the old City of Jerusalem referred to the LGBT flags as “abomination flags” and were upset that significant money was spent on the LGBT community, “which hurts Judaism’s basic principles and takes pride in committing some of the worst sins in the Torah. We must distance this abomination.” Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Aryeh Stern, wrote to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon asking that he not allow the gay pride flags to wave throughout the city on Thursday. He wrote, “I know from the point of view of the law, the mayor has no ability to prevent the parade, and therefore I ask you to at least give a ruling for the flags not to be waved, as they make the city ugly.”
On the other hand: Jerusalem mayor Moshe Leon drew praise from pluralistic parties for his stance on the parade. Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum commented that the mayor “goes out of his way to ensure that we are representing our public, and he respects the need of the pluralist parties to get results for their constituents.”
Uri Banki, father of Shira Banki, who was killed at the 2015 parade, had an altogether different perspective, and encouraged people to attend the parade. He posted on Facebook: “If the good stays silent and sits at home, the evil will raise its head.”
Many took to Twitter in support of the parade, including Israeli activist Hen Mazzig, who tweeted: “15,000 people marched in the Jerusalem #Pride Parade yesterday. ‘We will march until love overcome hate, compassion overcome apathy, until we all are truly treated as humans.’”
- Celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris speak positively about Israel, particularly when they it aligns with their world view. Harris will attend this week’s pride parade in Tel Aviv where tens of thousands are expected, and he said “Tel Aviv has become a symbol of the openness and acceptance of the LGBTQcommunity on the world stage, and we are honored to be in Israel for the first time and to have the honor to take part in this beautiful celebration and to stand with the LGBTQ community in Israel and around the world, especially on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.”
Does your support of Israel depend on it aligning with your values? Does the support of celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris mean something to you? Let’s say the gay pride parades stopped, would the support of celebrities like Harris stop as well?
- After the stabbing in 2015, Orthodox Rabbi Benny Lau made the powerful, provocative and controversial remarks that anyone who has been a part of homophobia at Shabbat table conversations or on the soccer field is guilty of this murder.
Do you agree with Rabbi Benny Lau in this assessment? Why do you think many people were inspired by his comments, and why do you think many were outraged?
- While Jerusalem’s Haredi and some other religious populations are against the parade, they recognize that there is not much they can do about it from a legal standpoint. Hazon posters were taken down, but the chief rabbi’s call for flag removal was unheeded.
While the law protects the voice of the LGBT community and supporters, do you think consideration should be given to the large chunk (over ⅓) of the city’s population who is made very uncomfortable by this parade? How can society respect, protect and empathize with the perspectives of many in the religious Zionist camp and the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox world?
- In 2006, the Israeli foreign ministry began promoting Israel’s gay-friendliness as a way to “break apart the negative stereotypes many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel.” Israel wanted to brand itself as a modern country and also increase gay tourism.
Is this “pinkwashing”? What are your thoughts on the term “pinkwashing”? Does the fact that Israel promotes itself in this way mean that it is covering other things up?
- “A Hillel moment” – EMPATHY EXPERIMENT: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes – “al tadin et chavercha ad she’tagia limkomo”:
- As a gay Jewish woman living in Jerusalem: How would you react to there being a massive pride parade in support of the gay community in this holy Jewish city?
- As a Haredi living in Jerusalem: How would you internalize the fact that there is a massive pride parade in support of the gay community in this holy Jewish city?
- If you yourself were in Jerusalem, would you attend the parade? Why or why not?