Hundreds of people came out on Sunday to LGBTQ Pride rallies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and several other cities across Israel to make up for the annual Pride parade which was canceled this year in light of the coronavirus crisis.
Noam Yavin, co-chairwoman of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, called on political leaders to ensure the LGBTQ community has “the right to live in safety, to become parents, to marry and to be seen.”
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn visited the Jerusalem rally and said in a statement he is committed to LGBTQ causes, calling the fight for equality “a fundamental struggle for liberty, tolerance and acceptance, and in many cases a fight for actual lives.”
Earlier, police detained three right-wing activists of the far-right anti-assimilation group Lehava on suspicion of planning to disturb the Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride rally, which began later on Sunday.
The activists claim that their arrest, which was done on the grounds of “improper behavior in a public place," is illegal, and a judge later ordered their release.
The judge accepted their attorneys' claims that, when there is no reasonable suspicion of committing the offense, no arrest could be ordered, and also denied the request to delay their release to allow police to appeal it.
The Jerusalem police also said they detained 27 people in total after having warned eight other right-wing activists not to disrupt Sunday's event. The police also said they are preparing to secure the rally, which will take place at Independence Park, and will deploy visible and covert forces in the area and block traffic from 5 P.M. until the rally ends. Police may also intermittently block several streets across the city. In recent years the police have arrested activists before the LGBTQ Pride parade in Jerusalem on suspicion of their intention to disrupt the event.
- This Pride Month, Tel Aviv Recognized Civil Partnerships. Other Israeli Cities May Follow Suit
- Jerusalem City Inspectors Take Down U.S. Embassy Banner for LGBTQ Pride Month
- Israel Postpones LGBTQ Pride Parades Due to Coronavirus
On Saturday, a few dozen right-wing protesters demonstrated outside the home of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon against the municipality’s support for the event. However, Open House petitioned the High Court of Justice a few hours before the rally. The petition demanded that the municipality put up pride flags in the streets around Independence Park as it does every year. Open House said that this year the city made do with five symbolic flags instead of the usual 90.
“Once again, we encounter an insensitive municipality that doesn’t even bother to fake an egalitarian attitude,” said Noam Yavin, spokeswoman of Open House. “The municipality made an irresponsible decision in an embarrassing attempt to erase the visibility of the gay community. We at Open House will not allow this the erasure of pluralistic variety in Jerusalem.”
Last week Jerusalem city inspectors removed a large sign of support of the American Embassy for the event, which was returned after embassy officials protested its removal.
One of those arrested Sunday was Moshe Ben-Zikri, a prominent Lehava activist, who has shown up at the LGBTQ Pride parade a number of times in recent years and called out denigrating comments against the LGBTQ community. The police was to ask the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday to extend Ben-Zikri’s detention and that of other suspects.
Ben-Zikri’s attorney, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said it was “the right of Lehava activists to protest against the parade. The Jerusalem police has not internalized the fundamentals of freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is not only for leftists.” Ben-Gvir added that he would ask the court to free Ben-Zikri without restrictions, the way the leader of the protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Amir Haskel, who was arrested Friday night, was freed from detention.
Lehava said in a statement: “Thoughts must not be arrested in Israel. The thought police are working to please the extreme left. The organization added that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana needs to “realize that in a democratic country protest against 'obscenity parades' is also allowed.”
The police have taken these preventive actions as part of lessons learned during the 2015 parade, in which 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by an extremist ultra-orthodox man, Yishai Shlisel. Shlisel murdered Banki a few weeks after his release from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for assault and attempted murder during the 2005 Pride parade. Shlisel, who wounded six other people in the attack, was given a life sentence.
Lee Yaron and Noa Shpigel contributed to this report.