3,000 Turn Out for Contentious Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem

Event to take side streets to avoid tensions; Haredi protests have been comparatively subdued this year.

Some 3,000 people turned out Thursday to take part in the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, which as in previous years, had sparked an outcry from the ultra-Orthodox community in the capital. But the parade, unlike in previous years, passed without incident.

Past marches have been marred by violent demonstrations by the ultra-Orthodox. This year there were only small-scale protests away from the march route, and police said one protester was arrested.

"The Haredis have understood this year that the fight [against the parade] is a shot in the foot," said Sa'ar Netanel, a member of Jerusalem's city council for the leftist Meretz party.

According to Netanel, who is also a representative of the gay and lesbian community in Jerusalem, the community has been experiencing "bad years" since Mayor Uri Lupolianski took office. "The parade has been happening for seven years," Netanel said, "this year there is no acceptance but there is peace."

On Wednesday, residents in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim night burnt trash to protest the parade. Police expect the level opposition to intensify on Thursday ahead of the parade and as it ensues.

The parade set out from Independence Park at 4 P.M., meandering along Agron Street and King David Street and concluding with a rally in Liberty Bell Park.

The area is still considered central Jerusalem, but organizers planned the march away from heavily-populated residential neighborhoods, along relatively side streets, to prevent friction and protests.

Police and event organizers said that this year they met with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community ahead of the event, in an effort to ensure that the rally took place in a calm atmosphere, and to avoid incitment.

Only 2,000 police officers were on hand at the parade - 10,000 fewer than were deployed last year.

On Wednesday, Jerusalem police launched an investigation after Netanel received an envelope from an anonymous source which contained white powder.

The High Court of Justice earlier this week rejected a petition submitted by right-wing activists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel calling for the parade to be banned.

Lupolianski backed the request, in a joint letter with city manager Yair Ma'ayan to the High court. The letter claimed that holding the parade within the capital would offend public sensibilities.

Last year, roughly 3,500 people marched in the Jerusalem parade, as some 1,500 ultra-Orthodox men and right-wing activists demonstrated against the event. Several arrests were made.