Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Wednesday that he would not be participating in the city's gay pride parade the following day.
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"I won't march because I don’t want to be part of something that offends the ultra-Orthodox public and national-religious public," Barkat was quoted as saying in an interview published in Yedioth Ahronoth.
Barkat has been serving as the city's mayor since 2008, winning against ultra-Orthodox candidates in two mayoral races. "It's of course their right to march," he said, touting town hall's record of working with the community. "The Jerusalem municipality, the police and I will do all we can to enable them to exercise their right, but they need to know that it offends others A large part of the population in Jerusalem has great difficulty with the parade."
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon harshly criticized Barkat's remarks, saying that "once again the mayor gave in to religious terror, making paltry political calculations at the gay community's expense."
"Barkat is spitting on the safety and dignity of a whole public in order to elicit electoral gains, betraying his role as a public figure. Barkat is demeaning the memory of Shira Banki, a young girl who was murdered by a religious fanatic only a year ago, a girl who displayed more public courage than her mayor," she added.
Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli said that "Between Shira Banki and Yishai Schlissel, Nir Barkat chooses Schlissel," referring to Banki's killer.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said that "in a record performance of cowardice and moral corruption, Barkat makes a conscious choice to attack the victim and protect the aggressor. It's not the religious public that was hurt in the past year, in the past week, but the LGBT public."
Sarah Kala, the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House that organizes the pride parade in Jerusalem, said that following the mayor's announcement she received phone calls from dozens of angry community members.
"It's very regrettable that he won't be coming," Kala told Haaretz. "There are diverse communities in Jerusalem, and of course they all need to be addressed. But this year there's great importance to the parade. Religious leaders will be coming. The head of the city's education administration will be coming. It's a shame that only Barkat won't take part."
Hundreds of police officers, Border Patrol forces and volunteers will provide security for the event. In a statement, the police said there will be security checkpoints at the entrance to Thursday's parade and that those marching will undergo security checks before being permitted entrance. Entrance with firearms is strictly forbidden.
On Tuesday, Barkat held a meeting with Banki's parents and representatives from Jerusalem's Open House for Pride and Tolerance. "Barkat said he wants to come and lay a wreath at the junction where the murder [of Banki] took place. He said he will continue working with us to advance youth programs and funding for special mental health services," Kala said.
"The parade is important, but it's only a stepping stone in our larger operations," she added.
In a statement published by Barkat Wednesday morning, he said "Jerusalem will not be Be'er Sheva," referring to the southern city that caused a storm last week after a police demand to reroute the gay pride parade caused organizers to cancel the event and hold a protest instead.
"I fully support the LQBT community's right to march in Jerusalem. The Open House in Jerusalem has received unprecedented funding [from the municipality], and town hall's doors are always open to the heads of the gay community, with whom we are in ongoing dialogue.
"Jerusalem will not accept violence, psychical or verbal, which tries to threaten the shared fabric of our existence. I will continue to condemn with full force any expression of incitement," the mayor said.
"It is no secret that there are those who are offended by the parade, but this does not mean that it cannot take place," Barkat said.