Pride Parade Organizers Appeal Police Restrictions on March in Southern Israel

The organizers of the march in the southern Israel city of Mitzpeh Ramon maintain that if a serious threat to participants exists, redirecting the parade rather than protecting it is 'wrongful capitulation to violence'

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Pride parade in Be'er Sheva, Israel, this month.
Pride parade in Be'er Sheva, Israel, this month.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The organizers of the Mitzpeh Ramon Pride Parade appealed Monday to the High Court of Justice against a police decision prohibiting the march from using a route the organizers had requested.

The police, who responded to the appeal on Tuesday, said that there is near certainty that serious harm will be done to the participants, and therefore they approved a route that does not go through the center of the city. The court has set a date to hear the appeal, which will be broadcast as part of the court’s pilot broadcasting project, on Wednesday.

“A reality in which year after year the [LGBTQ] community is shunted aside, discriminated against and pushed out of the city’s residential streets, based on the claim that the police cannot protect it – does not conform to the duty to ensure freedom of assembly and protest,” the appeal states.

This is especially so “in a reality in which all day long the police approve demonstrations in which there is very serious political friction (for example, the Flag March, that passes through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem)."

A decision that pertains to "open political hostility against the LGBTQ community, requires particularly close judicial oversight, and effective protection of freedom of demonstration," the appeal emphasized.

Parade organizers submitted a request to hold the event on May 30. They estimated that about 350 people would attend, and noted it would start at 11 A.M. and end at noon. They were given a permit in principle from the police to hold the event, as well as requirements the organizers would have to meet to ensure public safety, issued by a police intelligence officer.

On June 20, the organizer of the event, Michal Romi, received a letter from Chief Superintendent Moshe Zarihan, commander of the Dimona police station (which has jurisdiction over Mizpeh Ramon), stating: “In line with the information the police have and an assessment of the situation, it has been found that there is near certainty of severe and serious harm to public safety and public order on part of the route along which you wish to hold the parade.”

The letter goes on to say that the police will allow the march to take place “with a slight change in the route that will manifest itself in a change of 200 meters from the proposed route.” The station also demanded that the organizers submit a new request.

The organizers rejected the proposal. In a letter to the station commander, an attorney representing the organizers, Hagai Kalai, wrote that the choice of venue of the demonstration constitutes in itself an important independent statement for the demonstrators, and it is also protected under the right to demonstrate and the right to free expression.

“If the police have intelligence information indicating concern of life-threatening violence on the part of groups opposed to the event, the police must prepare for [this] and protect the participants well. The police must also act against those creating the danger to the participants and thwart them. Any other outcome will be wrongful capitulation to violence,” Kalai wrote.

Residents of the Negev city of Mitzpeh Ramon who identify with the struggle of the gay community have recently reported being targeted. For example, gay flags hung from private apartments have been torn down and stolen and flyers have been placed in mailboxes denouncing the community and the parade.

The Orthodox news website Kippah reported last month that Rabbi Zvi Kostiner, the head of the Mitzpeh Ramon yeshiva, was filmed in front of the home of lawmaker Nir Orbach of the right-wing Yamina party, shouting “Gays go home, homos go home, this is evil.” Offensive graffiti slogans were also sprayed in the city.

In 2021, Mitzpeh Ramon’s mayor, Roni Marom issued a statement opposing the parade. Under the heading “LGBTQ – my personal position,” Marom said that the term “pride” with reference to sexual preference is problematic, adding: “I do not recognize the LGBTQ flag, and I am not prepared to call them a community. I oppose the shadow army in victory marches from Manhattan to Berlin. Everyone has faces and names and I love everyone without exception. I identify deeply with everyone’s difficulties and I wish them normal life as [I do] every person.”

Rabbi Kostiner did not comment.

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