Southern Israeli City's First Pride Parade Draws 3,500 Participants; Knife-wielding Haredi Man Arrested

Revelers carried signs reading 'It’s okay to be gay in Be'er Sheva, too.' Another Haredi man arrested after trying to break into closed-off area by force

Hundreds of Israelis march in Be'er Sheva’s first gay pride parade
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

An estimated 3,500 people participated in Be’er Sheva’s first pride parade on Thursday evening.

Marchers carried signs with slogans such as “It’s okay to be gay in Be’er Sheva, too” and “Be’er Sheva, you are not alone.” The one-kilometer parade route, along Yitzhak Rager Boulevard, ended outside City Hall, where Margalit Tzan’ani and Ania Bukstein sang in a performance funded by the city. 

Police arrested two ultra-Orthodox men near the main event, one of whom was carrying a knife and the other tried to break into the closed off section with force. Police are investigating whether the two men were connected.

The city’s first pride parade was supposed to take place last year, but it was canceled after police changed the route from Rager Boulevard, the city’s main street, to side streets.

Hundreds of Israelis march in Be'er Sheva’s first gay pride
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Hundreds of Israelis march in Be'er Sheva’s first gay pride parade
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Hundreds of Israelis march in Be'er Sheva’s first gay pride. Sign reads: "Understand, Be'er Sheva, this how how nature's made me."
Ilan Assayag

Barak Attar, 50, founded the city’s first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization in the 1990s, together with some friends. At first, most of the members were university students. Since then, he said, the community has made much progress, but much more remains to be done. “This parade is a first step after many, many steps,” he said. “Just as a baby begins by crawling, turning over and then walking, until he reaches first grade, we too, have now reached first grade.”

Some of those steps have been “steps of mourning,” Attar added, like the murder of two people at a gay youth club in Tel Aviv in 2009 and the murder of Shira Banki during Jerusalem’s Pride Parade in 2015. “Many things led to this event” he said. “It’s a process of maturation by the community, the municipality and the city.”

Over the past year, the LGBT community’s relationship with Mayor Ruvik Danilovich has improved. After years in which the community’s Proud House had to rent its own premises, the city finally provided it with a building. The city also hired a dedicated social worker for the LGBT community.

But while the city paid for the post-parade concert, it did not cover any expenses connected with the parade itself. Moreover, while the municipality’s Facebook page publicized the event, it also stressed that the parade was organized by the local LGBT community. Yet even this is progress, Attar said, because this is the first time the municipality has ever publicized an LGBT event on its Facebook page. Next year, he hopes “the municipality will take over the parade itself and move forward.”

Hundreds of policemen and volunteers provided security at the parade. Some people were asked to show identification before entering the area. This week, police arrested a 17-year-old city resident who wrote “Soon, an attack on Be’er Sheva’s first pride parade” on Facebook. He was later released with restrictions.

The parade route was identical to the one vetoed by the police last year. The local LGBT community petitioned the High Court of Justice against last year’s decision, but eventually canceled the parade and replaced it with a protest vigil rather than agree to the alternative route police proposed. Yet this year, after Proud House spent weeks negotiating with the police over the route, the same officer who vetoed it last year – Southern District police chief David Bitan – approved it.

Gadi Mazuz, a city councilman for the religious Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party, said that even religious council members were involved in approving the parade, as was the municipal rabbi, Yehuda Dery. “We reached a compromise that we got via the mayor, the police and the other relevant parties,” Mazuz said. “We have to accept that this is a democratic state. As soon as the police approved it, we had no ability to oppose it.

“If you ask me personally, morally, I don’t want this to take place in our city,” Mazuz added. “But you live in a democratic state ruled by law, so you have to respect the other sides.”