First Gay Pride Parade Sparks Crisis in Southern Israeli City

Religious members of Be’er Sheva's city council are threatening to resign over plan to turn annual pride event into proper parade.

Eyal Toueg

The first Gay Pride Parade in Be’er Sheva, planned for this Thursday, has sparked a coalition crisis in city council, foot-dragging by the police who have yet to grant a permit and ambivalence in city hall.

Religious members of the council are threatening to resign from the coalition over the scheduled route of the parade, which is due to start in the Old City and make its way along the main artery of town, winding up at City Hall.

Organizers say they will turn to the courts if the police don’t grant a permit for the march, after they already compromised on the proposed route.

In contrast to previous years, the municipality has also refused to fund this year’s event.

Members of the religious parties in the city council coalition, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi, claim that the proposed route of the parade contradicts past agreements with Mayor Rubik Danilovich that such events would take place only in the Old City’s Youth Center.

In fact, a municipal funded Gay Pride event has taken place in the Youth Center every year, for several years. But this week marks the first time that the gay community is to hold a full parade in the city.

Council members and rabbinical authorities claim that they don’t oppose the parade but demand a different route within the Old City, because along the present route the parade will pass synagogues. In Ashdod and Jerusalem the parades also bypass the city center, according to city council member Gadi Mazuz, of Habayit Hayehudi.

Smadar Bonen, a lawyer representing Pride House, the organization behind the parade, said that during a meeting with mayoral aide Zvika Cohen, she was told that “there will be no march in Be’er Sheva, because this is a city with a special character.” Cohen did not deny the comment.

The municipality noted that it has financed LGBT events in the past and that its decision not to fund the march this year is due to the fact that the event is expected to include a protest against the limited funding the municipality and government provide to LGBT organizations.

At a meeting with rabbinical authorities and religious figures the religious coalition members in the city council said that if the route wasn’t changed they would resign from the coalition. This would present no danger to the stability of the coalition.

Rabbinical authorities have been trying to achieve a compromise; if there is none they say they will consider legal recourse.

Attorney Bonen said that the commander of the Be’er Sheva police gave his “final approval, orally” for the route, but that they had still not received a written permit. The organizers originally wanted a more central route, but after discussion agreed to compromise on an alternative, and are not willing to alter it again.