Some 400 people marched in Netanya’s first pride parade on Friday without incident, despite receiving no support from the municipality and strong opposition from residents leading up to the event, including threats against organizers and participants on social media.
The marchers left from the city’s Nitza promenade and held the main event at Independence Square, where LGBT representatives delivered speeches. The municipality did not support the march, and Mayor Miriam Feinberg did not attend despite being invited. The police came out in force for the event and many officers were deployed along the parade route.
According to the organizers, the municipality approved holding the event at the Independence Square, the city's main square, several weeks ago. But after residents and religious groups complained, it sought to relocate it.
The city suggested holding the event in Netanya's cultural center, which is smaller, and further from the city center. The organizers also said that the municipality withdrew its promise to hand pride flags at the square. Therefore, organizers decided to hold a protest march without municipal support, under the slogan “Netanya is coming out of the closet.”
Pride in Netanya, the group organizing the march, commented that the municipality’s request to relocate the parade was “an attempt to hide the event and to dance at two political weddings: To pander to the religious and to hide us under the guise that they are allowing it to take place.”
Many residents opposed the march, hanging signs in recent days with slogans calling for its cancellation. “The people cry out!!! Say no to the march of abomination in our city of Netanya,” one of them read.
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Several also took to social media platforms, posting comments on advertisements for the parade, in which they threatened to harm marchers.
“We will come with bottles and stones and we’ll have fun with them,” one comment read. Another stated, “This is a public space, and I certainly didn’t raise my children to see things children are forbidden from seeing.”
“We were subjected to horrible incitement, violence and attacks on members of the community ahead of the Netanya pride parade in recent days,” said Ohad Hizki, the CEO of The Aguda – The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel. “The Netanya pride parade, which is one of some 40 pride events being held this year across the country, is first of all a protest against the discrimination and hatred we experience. We are not afraid, and we will continue to march in Netanya and everywhere else, with pride and love, until the discrimination ends,” he added.
In response, the Netanya municipality commented: “The municipality arranged the main event for the community including flag waving in the city center and the mayor held a meeting with community representatives, in partnership with all professional bodies, to run a municipal education campaign. The community submitted a request for a publicity event and not a pride parade, and so the claim that the municipality allegedly backpedaled is baseless."
The request submitted to the Israel Police by the community was described as a protest march, and so the whole process of issuing a permit and setting a route were done according to Israel Police guidelines without municipal involvement, said the municipality statement. "Because the city is not part of the event it cannot allow use of municipal resources. The municipality condemns any and all violent discourse and incitement, and acts on different works on many levels and in cooperation with enforcement authorities to calm the atmosphere on the issue.”