Haredi majority keep out of anti-gay parade limelight
Religious activists leading the struggle to prevent Jerusalem's gay pride parade from taking place Thursday are nearing the last round of their fight. Despite their efforts, it seems their campaign is not really getting off the ground.
The problem seems to be that Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community is reluctant to participate in the protests that the fundamentalist activists have been staging throughout the previous week.
For example, organizers of Sunday's mass protest rally on Bar-Ilan Street in the capital called it in advance "the 100,000-strong demonstration." Police estimated the crowd at 10,000, but even that figure was exaggerated. In reality, the demonstration that was meant to "shake the ground for the sanctity of Jerusalem" attracted no more than several thousand protesters.
The secular media is always eager to report on protest rallies by ultra-Orthodox Jews. In reality, the demonstrations are being staged by a fundamentalist sect within the ultra-Orthodox community, the Edah Haredit, whose name accounts for much of the confusion.
The Edah Haredit is responsible for nightly demonstrations in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, including the mass rally at Bar-Ilan Street. The organization consists of several ultra-Orthodox and anti-Zionist groups including Satmar, Toldos Aharon and Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok hasidim and Perushim.
Unlike the majority of the ultra-Orthodox community, the followers of the Edah Haredit boycotted the general elections for the Knesset, and are opposed to any sign of modernity. In less than 12 months, the group has rallied its supporters twice to protest against gay and lesbian events.
The last time was in the fall to protest plans by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance to hold a parade in the capital at the beginning of November. After weeks of violent protests, the Open House decided to hold a limited event that was confined to a venue in the western part of the capital.
The Edah is currently fighting against the gay community's intentions to hold the 2007 pride parade, which takes place Thursday. As in 2006, the struggle reveals the internal paradox within the Edah Haredit's ranks.
On the one hand, the Edah is continuing to demonstrate its anti-Zionist line and advocate a separatist approach toward the state. At the same time, however, it is displaying increasing involvement in the public life of the country, which it does not recognize.
In the case of the gay parade, the Edah Haredit is attempting to "uphold the sanctity" in parts of Jerusalem that are beyond its neighborhood. The question arises: Why does the Edah care about seculars, who are leading a life of sin and abomination?
The answer could not be found in the speeches by the Edah's rabbis Sunday, but it seems to be bugging its leader, Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, who is trying to postpone the protests for as long as possible.
Prominent ultra-Orthodox media are doing their best to ignore the subject altogether. Radio Kol Hai and the daily newspaper Hamodia, for example, are applying self-censorship and refraining from mentioning the issue.
The heads of Sephardi and Lithuanian yeshivas in Jerusalem have instructed their students to stay away from the protests. Their decision is not due to support for the gay parade, but because the general ultra-Orthodox population is no longer willing to expose its children to the existence of a strict sexual taboo.
Jonathan Lis adds: Police chief David Cohen said yesterday that the police will use all of its resources to ensure the safety of the participants in Thursday's gay pride parade.