Jerusalem Pride set for another successful year (from 2011)

This post was a draft rediscovered in a corner of my blog! Originally written in June, 2011. 

Despite past controversy, annual march charges ahead

By Ryan Ariel Simon

JERUSALEM, Israel (June 21) – As this year’s gay pride event approaches the mood is calm, and organizers expect another step forward for Jerusalem’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community.

Since the Pride and Tolerance demonstration first started in 2002 the march, and GLBT community, have slowly gained greater acceptance. This year’s march will be held on July 28 marking the two-year anniversary of the murder of several gay youth at a Tel Aviv social center.

Though Tel Aviv’s gay pride event is supported by its city council, which says gay tourists contribute $7.5 million to the economy. In Jerusalem, organizers have confronting a more conservative atmosphere, and wrestled with the religious community,

“The first went through without objection,” said Yaron Gal, a social worker at the Jerusalem Open House (JOH), a non-profit organizing the event, and serving Jerusalem’s GLBT community, “The objections started after we tried to bring World Pride in 2005.”

World Pride aims to show the economic power of the gay community through tourism, Gal’s goal on the other hand is to gain greater acceptance through interaction and education. “It was too early to bring World Pride to Jerusalem,” he said.

It also brought an international effort to boycott pride in Israel for “Pinkwashing,” uses the issue to promote a positive image of Israel abroad, while avoiding discussion of Palestinian rights.

If, like the Israeli Gay Youth (IGY) organization, they use government money and speakers, Gal agrees with the effort. The JOH also has Palestinian community members who come to the center for social services, support groups, youth activities, and even sometimes Friday night Shabbat.

Through there were always counter-demonstrations from the city’s community of Ultra-Orthodox—or Haredi in Hebrew—the strongest objections came after 2005, according to Gal.

Some politicians, like Jerusalem deputy mayor Yitzhak Pindrus, have actively opposed the parade, and disparaged Jerusalem’s gay community

Last year Pindrus, the head of a Haredi party in Jerusalem’s city council, attempted to march donkeys in a counter-demonstration comparing homosexuality to bestiality, but was eventually forced to substitute donkey cut outs.

As for this year’s parade, “I don’t like it but it’s not my problem,” Pindrus said, “My kids aren’t exposed to this. It’s not something we discuss, it’s not something we deal with, and it’s not an issue. They don’t watch TV they don’t go on the internet why do they need it?”

“We created peace!” joked Gal, after the campaign for World Pride in Jerusalem for 2005 brought all three major religions in Jerusalem together to sign a document in opposition.

Besides the advances for the GBLT community in Israel have had little to do with politicians in the Knesset and everything to do with the court system, Gal Believes.

“Haredi are rabidly anti-gay,” says Daniel Sperber, an orthodox rabbi, and professor of Talmudic studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, “they see it as abomination.”

In contrast, while the Modern Orthodox have sympathy for the gay community they don’t still don’t accept their relationships, according to Sperber. They see it as tragic situation they can’t control, and a tragedy that they have been ostracized from Halacha.

The secular community is split generally between support from Ashkenazim liberals, and homophobia among Sephardim due to their cultural traditions, says Sperber. But overall there are much more GLBT people willing to come out publically, which he says is a positive development.

This year, he said, JOH has had a dialogue with the Haredi community to discuss plans for the demonstrations so tensions are not needlessly inflamed, though if their feelings are hurt by simply by gay people in public “its too bad,” said Gal.

The 2004 march was marred by violence, through Gal says the most prominent attack, a stabbing of three people, was perpetrated by a crazy person, and not representative of the largely Haredi protestors.

In an interesting twist of events, Gal speculated one reason Haredi community protests have reduced in recent years is by protesting they were introduced the issue to their kids and community.

The theme of this year’s event, which will start at Jerusalem’s Independence Garden, and end in a rally in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is “Intertwining Path’s.”

LGBT people take part in the social struggles of workers and women for greater equality and rights, and now they are asking those groups to support the LGBT struggle in Israel, said Gal, the social worker.

But not all of Israel’s gay community supports the event.

“Amit,” the chair of Kamoha, an organization that provides support to orthodox gay Israelis, gave several reasons why they oppose a gay pride demonstration. Amit is a pseudonym he gave because he is still in the closet; everyone but his closest friends and several family members are in the dark about his sexuality.

He is against the very word “pride,” to begin with, “there is nothing to be proud of,” he said. Beyond that, the event’s are halu hashem or “against God,” said Amit, for the basic fact that they publicly deal with the issue of sexuality, a part of life that should be kept in private according to Halacha, or Jewish law.

Additionally, he says the marches are full of immodestly dressed people, showing their bodies and celebrating sex in public, but Gal, the social worker disagrees.

“Pride in Jerusalem is modest and the majority of people just go in normal clothes, “it’s more like a demonstration than a parade.”

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