Haifa Prepares for Its First Gay Pride Parade Thursday

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox demonstrate over decision to hold Jerusalem parade; 7,000 police to be mobilized.

Haifa was set to host its first Gay Pride parade Thursday, a week before a similar march in Jerusalem seems set to spark fierce protests.

Dozens of members of the ultra-Orthodox community demonstrated Wednesday evening in Jerusalem in protest of the parade scheduled to take place next Thursday.

Police gave approval Wednesday night for the Jerusalem march, a statement said, despite vocal and potentially violent opposition from the ultra-Orthodox community.

A garbage receptacle was set on fire during the demonstration, which was organized by the head of the ultra-Orthodox community's religious court, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch.

The head of the gay rights organization sponsoring the parade, Noa Satat, said that "the parade will be an expression of freedom of speech and civil rights, and will bear a restrained and moderate Jerusalem character" as opposed to Tel Aviv's more flamboyant parade.

"We are calling all the participants in the parade to respect the residents of Jerusalem including the ultra-Orthodox residents. We invite anyone that the freedom of speech and the democracy in Israel is important to them, to take part in the parade," she said.

Sa'ar Netanel, a member of the city council from the Meretz party and a leader of the gay community in Jerusalem said, "The Gay Pride parade has long ago turned into a demonstration of preserving democracy and freedom of speech. It is only appropriate that it would take place in Israel's capital."

The police statement said that 7,000 officers will be mobilized to protect the marchers, because efforts to reach a compromise over the gathering failed.

The ultra-Orthodox will be permitted to stage their own demonstration in a different part of the city, and police will keep the two groups separated, the statement said.