Thousands March in Jerusalem Pride Parade; Police Arrest 49, Including Man With Knife

49 detained in total ■ Police on high alert at event, which saw a participant stabbed to death in 2015

Participants march in Jerusalem's Pride Parade, Jerusalem, June 6, 2019
Emil Salman

Undercover police arrested a man who had a concealed knife near the Jerusalem's Pride Parade's route on Thursday, according to a statement, as thousands marched through the city streets under heavy security.

A total of 49 people were detained or arrested by officers guarding the parade, police said, while several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the parade's compound to protest the march.

Jerusalem's 18th annual LGBT pride parade kicked off on Thursday afternoon, with . This year's theme is "One Community – Many Faces." Police have been on high alert ahead of the event in recent years after the 2015 parade ended tragically when an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed to death a 15-year-old participant. 

Far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir accused police of lying when they said they had found a knife in possession of a suspect, alleging a conspiracy to smear counterprotesters.

"The police's spin continues in full force, and this is for a clear goal: to defame the protesters against the march and to create a public delegitimization of them," Ben-Gvir claimed. "The police is not a political body, and it had better hurry up and realize that."

The procession began marching at the city's Liberty Bell Park at 3:15 P.M. concluding at Independence Park.

The march was introduced by Ofer Erez, executive director for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, accompanied by the ambassadors of Canada and the European Union. "The march in Jerusalem is the spearhead of the Pride struggle," Erez told Haaretz. "This is a parade with local, national and international significance. It's important for public opinion inside the country and because it is Jerusalem it is also important to people around the world."

File photo: Participants take part in the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, July 21, 2016.
Amir Cohen / Reuters

The Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade is one of the city's flagship events for Israel's liberal public. Tens of thousands of people from across Israeli society are expected to take part in the march.

>> Read more: With transgender woman's suicide, Israel’s LGBTQ and religious worlds come together ■ Israelis stage mass wedding to advocate for gay rightsRecord number of Israeli locales to hold gay pride events for the first time

The 2015 stabbing rampage claimed the life of 15-year-old Shira Banki. Five other people were wounded in the attack.

The attacker, Yishai Schlissel from the West Bank settlement of Modi’in Ilit, stabbed three participants in the 2005 Gay Pride march and was released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence.

Banki was a high school student from Jerusalem, studying at the Hebrew University High School. She took part in the parade to show solidarity with her LGBT friends. She was survived by her parents and three siblings; her family decided to donate her organs.

Following Thursday's march, on Friday Jerusalem's religious gay community and several nongovernment organizations will host a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony to usher in the Sabbath. Unlike most gay pride events abroad, this gathering will not be a massive party with loud music, but a candlelighting ceremony and an evening prayer followed by a celebratory Shabbat meal.

Ahead of the parade, police arrested two men suspected of planning to disrupt it.

"The Israel Police will act with determination against any element that intends to disrupt Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade," the police said in a statement.

On Tuesday night, The Jerusalem municipality ordered the removal of posters opposing the gay pride parade that had been hung around the city, on the grounds that they are hurtful to the public.

The posters, which were posted on dozens of municipal billboards at the start of the week, read: “Father and mother = family. The courage to be normal."

The head of the city’s department for public advertising, Hagar Achdut, announced on Tuesday night that the decision to take down the posters stemmed from the many complaints the municipality had fielded on the matter. “The content of the campaign in question could hurt the feelings of some members of the public living in Jerusalem, so I am ordering all the ads to be removed within six hours as of receiving this notice,” she wrote.

Behind the posters is Hazon, a conservative group with ties to the religious Zionist movement and its rabbis. According to its members, it works to bolster Jewish and family values. On Wednesday morning, the High Court of Justice rejected an urgent motion by Hazon to repeal Achdut’s directive.