Not Your Basic Birds and Bees

Not everyone in the ultra-Orthodox public agrees with the vicious and violent struggle against the gay pride parade. Some say the main opponents are parents who have to explain that abomination to their children.

The Internet forum B'Hadrei Haredim (in the Haredi inner sanctum) features a weekly press review by Avraham Alon, who writes under the name A. Mor.

"Readers of this column," writes Mor, "like many other people who, in their spare time, are parents of mature and maturing children, probably have to answer more than four questions about "the fifth child" (the homosexual - S.I.), whose parade is being discussed around the Shabbat table ... The result is more than obvious. Faithful Jewish journalists and wheeler-dealers have done what innumerable parades would not have done ... they have tossed this hot potato into the laps of thousands of parents of young children who have no experience with pride."

The Gerer Hasidim maintained the traditional practice of not fighting gays in order not to recognize their existence. Agudat Yisrael's Hamodia newspaper also downplayed all references to both the parade and the struggle against it.

Immodest people

This week I asked a few ultra-Orthodox men how they explained it to their children. Yehuda Meshi Zahav is the founder of ZAKA rescue services and operations officer for the Eda Haredit, a coalition of extreme ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist groups based in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood. He has lit fires and petitioned the High Court of Justice against the parade. He has also turned the struggle into combat lessons for the children.

Meshi Zahav took them to demonstrations to see how garbage cans are set ablaze and rocks are thrown, and to the police station to see those who had been arrested, "to learn the concept of fighting for an ideology and a stance, and to be ready to suffer blows."

To explain the reason for the demonstrations, he cited this week's Torah portion, which deals with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He told the children that the paraders are "wicked sinners who do exactly what the Sodomites did, people who want to go naked in the streets."

Other parents gave far less detailed responses - that these people do immodest things. Every child knows what immodesty is, the parents told me.

Posters declaring "Mommy, I'm afraid" found an original way to explain the matter. The posters defined homosexuals as "the bad people who do despicable things to little children, acts of sodomy, in Jerusalem's public parks." One parent who lives outside Jerusalem said he was thankful his children live far from the posters and do not have to see them.

There is no question: This past week belonged to the Eda Haredit. Its members do not vote in elections or accept money from the state (at least not officially). In recent years the Eda's strength has been waning, and its battles have been reduced to postering the streets of Mea Shearim. The Eda's last significant struggle was over Shabbat vehicular traffic on Bar Ilan street, and it was a while ago. This week the Eda was back in full swing, with its leadership purportedly calling on all members to grab a broomstick and go fight the parade. One of its leaders also blamed Israel's failure in the Lebanon war on the "abominations and promiscuity in the Holy Land."

No need to denounce

A summary of the demonstrations through yesterday afternoon reveals that this has been a rather standard wave of ultra-Orthodox outrage: Dumpsters were burned, stones thrown, traffic lights vandalized. So what was so exceptional? The fact that the demonstrations took place before the event in question, and that the warnings of violence have been much more extreme.

One possible conclusion: When the police make it clear that violence will result in a recommendation to cancel the parade, violence appears.

Another possible conclusion: Ultra-Orthodox youth may love burning Dumpsters and shouting epithets at the police, but murderers they are not.

Meshi Zahav has harsh criticism for those following in his footsteps. He says the struggle against the gay parade lacks direction. As of Tuesday, the time and location of Friday's demonstration had not yet been announced. Meshi Zahav says the protest headquarters exist only in the media. The demonstrations at the intersections happen only because of the enthusiasm of the yeshiva students, which stems from "the feeling that the rabbis permit everything."

For the first time, the ultra-Orthodox leadership has voiced no reservations against violence and has done little to stop it. In the past there was always an attempt to blame the violence on a small group of extremists. Not this time.

"Even praising the spirit of violent opposition is no small matter," wrote Alon.

The ultra-Orthodox publication Between the Lines also revealed who is esteemed these days. "Potential violence and tire spikes have been promoted from their natural place outside the camp to center stage," warned Alon.

"They have turned us all into potential murderers," thundered Yossi Elituv, the political commentator for the Orthodox weekly Mishpacha (Family).

Bezalel Kahan, a correspondent for the ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Neeman, has his own explanation for the violence.

"It is a reaction to the ultra-Orthodox public's sense of separateness, to all the blows it has received," says Kahan. "We are at the bottom on the scale of the deprived; the government is mistreating us, crushing us, killing us."

Then why are they protesting specifically against the gay parade?

"They do not riot in the streets over money," says Kahan. "This is an affront to religion."

Kahan says Yated is not in favor of violence, but sees no reason to denounce it.

Between Mecca and the Vatican

After he filed a petition against the parade at the High Court of Justice on Tuesday, Minister of Trade, Industry and Labor Eli Yishai asked, "Why did those people not try to hold their parade in Mecca or at the Vatican?"

The truth is that the first international gay parade, WorldPride, was held in Rome, and it passed close to the Vatican. That was in 2000, a year to which the Christians attributed special sanctity. Mecca will probably not have a gay parade in the foreseeable future. Jerusalem is therefore between Mecca and Rome with respect to its attitude toward gay parades, and it is not entirely clear to which it is closer.

A few reminders: Tomorrow's gay parade is not the first one, but rather the fifth. It is not international, but rather local. Since this is Jerusalem, it will be an unpretentious parade, and there will be no drag shows.

Why are these reminders important? Because religious and ultra-Orthodox public figures repeatedly contend that this is the first such parade and that it is international. The protest organizers and the ultra-Orthodox media usually have no reason to provide facts and information. It is much easier to recruit people to fight a first-time, international parade than a fifth, local low-key parade.

The press also carried stories this week of ultra-Orthodox intentions to invoke the dreaded pulsa denura curse against the parade's organizers. Last year Mishpacha published a study by Dr. Dov Schwartz of Bar-Ilan University and Moshe Blau, an ultra-Orthodox public figure. The two found the pulsa denura ritual had no basis in Kabbala. Rather, it was invented in the early days of Israel's statehood by a leader of the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group, which devised dramatic trappings for the age-old excommunication ritual. Excommunication is not such a terrible thing, but pulsa denura sounds at least as mysterious as voodoo rituals. All the rest is folklore and spin.

Two scenarios

This article was written before the High Court hearing - before the final ruling on the parade. Even so, it is probably still worth considering the following two scenarios.

"There will be total separation" between the demonstrators, says Meshi Zahav. "There will be no fatalities. There won't be anything. Next week everything will return to normal, and the city will buy a few new Dumpsters."

Elituv, on the other hand, offers a horrifying scenario: "If the gay parade is held on Friday, on Sunday there will be funeral processions. There will be tragedies and we will all weep."

Elituv fears deaths on both sides. He says the parade objectors have formed a coalition of zealots that includes the hilltop youth, Shuvu Banim yeshiva students and followers of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. Elituv fears what they may do, and is also afraid of police brutality.

"I have heard that they have ruthlessly beaten demonstrators," he says.