Parade pre-empted, but show goes on
The organizers of WorldPride 2006 have canceled the parade through Jerusalem that was to be the centerpiece of a week-long program of activities for the gay and lesbian community.
The organizers of WorldPride 2006 have canceled next Thursday's scheduled parade through Jerusalem that was to be the centerpiece of a week-long program of activities for the gay and lesbian community.
Citing security concerns related to the hostilities in the north, organizers vowed to reschedule the parade.
While hundreds of foreigners have canceled their reservations, local host Jerusalem Open House, the city's gay and lesbian community center, still expects thousands to attend other WorldPride events scheduled for the week. These including a health conference, youth day, a film festival and a multi-faith convocation.
The controversial parade was condemned by Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders around the world and by many local politicians.
"We are committed to marching in Jerusalem, as we have done annually since 2002," Jerusalem Open House executive director Hagai El-Ad said this week. "Being Jerusalemites, we love tradition, so we are not going to give up on this."
WorldPride Jerusalem was first scheduled for last summer, but it was postponed until this year due to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Organizers had originally hoped that 20,000 people would attend.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Open House is planning a demonstration against hateful incitement on Thursday, in place of the parade. El-Ad said no police permit is needed because it is considered a protest vigil.
The decision to postpone the parade capped weeks of negotiations with police over the route of the march, for which a police permit had not yet been issued.
In a letter dated July 20, Jerusalem District Police Commander Tzion Shai noted that tens of thousands, and possibly even hundreds of thousands of people were planning to disrupt the parade and physically attack the marchers and suggested holding the event indoors.
Last year, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed three people during the city's pride parade, which El-Ad said attracted 10,000 locals. Last month, posters in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim offered a NIS 20,000 reward to "whoever causes the death of one of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah."
The Shofar religious outreach organization is planning a "modesty march" in Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium on Tuesday, featuring its popular founder Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak.
Organizers said 17,000 of the 22,000 available tickets for the rally, whose tagline is "Jerusalem is not Sodom," had been sold by Wednesday.
The threats and protests are not deterring delegations from Toronto Pride or the gay synagogues Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York - whose rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, is the American co-chair of WorldPride 2006 - and Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco.
The 19 representatives of Sha'ar Zahav who came to Israel this week "dug in their heels and said, 'I'm going even more, I'm not going to be made afraid by these threats, this is my homeland and this is my opportunity to stand with gay and lesbian people from all over the world,'" Rabbi Camille Shira Angel said.
But other groups, including gay synagogues Etz Chaim in Florida and Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles have canceled out, as has the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, according to El-Ad.
Anti-sex, not anti-gay
Some opponents of the pride events made a point of emphasizing that they are not anti-gay. They say they just want sexuality to remain in the private sphere, especially in this city that is sacred to three religions.
"I wouldn't have a 'sexual parade' of any kind in this city," said Judith Newman. She is one of a core group of about a dozen Anglo and other Israeli women activists who have been lobbying municipal and national government officials against WorldPride.
"This is not the place for sex. It's holy," Newman asserted.
"We are not against homosexuals," Newman, who insisted on using her maiden name because she said she feared being attacked by gay activists, continued. "We are against public display of anything sexual."
Several protesters said they saw a correlation between the parade and what another member of the group described as "punishment from above."
"I think one of the tragedies is that on two successive years there have been national traumas that have prevented the scheduling of the parade. Maybe if we didn't keep scheduling the parade we could avoid the traumas as well," said Jonathan Rosenblum, director of Am Echad, an Israeli group that claims to speak for "the Torah world."
Rosenblum writes a column for The Jerusalem Post from an ultra-Orthodox perspective.
Both sides cite public health concerns as part of their agenda. While the women's protest group lobbied Health Ministry officials against the pride events, claiming they said could lead to unprotected sex and an increased HIV/AIDS infection rate, WorldPride speaker Nurit Shein prepared to discuss her proposal to establish a heath center in Israel for the gay and lesbian population.
Shein, who grew up in Israel but has lived in the United States for the past 15 years, is the executive director of Philadelphia's Mazzoni Center, an LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] health center. She will be speaking at the WorldPride health conference at the Mishkenot Sha'ananim conference center on Sunday.
A similar center is needed in Israel, Shein says, because the stigmatization of homosexuality makes some gays reluctant to come out to their doctors and prevents them from receiving the medical care they need. Gays are more prone to HIV, hepatitis and certain types of cancer than the general population, she said.
"Until we live in an ideal society in which it will not be an issue to say 'I am a lesbian ' or 'I am a homosexual, and I need such and such care,' and to come out to your caretaker, we do need specialized care," Shein declared.
"To come to Israel and to continue to support international gay pride is an important statement for me," she said. "Davka [precisely] now we should be coming and we should be showing our solidarity with Israel and with the gay community."w