A few thousand gays and their supporters rallied in Jerusalem on Friday under heavy security, going ahead with a festival that has sparked religious protests and highlighted deep divisions in Israeli society.
... Organizers had planned a gay pride street parade but cancelled it after police said they needed to beef up security to guard against threatened Palestinian attacks following a deadly Israeli army shelling attack in Gaza this week.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews had also threatened to disrupt the march through the holy city. There have been nightly protests in Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods against the parade.
...Police said they arrested several religious youths near the venue who were carrying knives and brass knuckles. There were also a few minor scuffles between right-wing opponents of the event and gay rights activists in the city but little violence.
Event organizers reported that some 4,000 people attended Friday’s gay pride event in the Givat Ram area of the capital. About 3,000 policemen were on hand to maintain law and order. There were no serious disturbances reported.
Police security worries spiraled after an errant Israeli artillery shells killed 19 civilians in Gaza on Wednesday and Palestinian militants vowed to carry out suicide bombings in Israel in retaliation.
Responding to those concerns, Pride organizers agreed to turn the parade into a rally, held inside the fenced-in stadium of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which was ringed by mounted police and anti-riot units.
This article at Time points out some things you should know about Israeli culture:
The fuss over the Gay Pride Parade also exposed some of the seismic cracks inside Israeli society, where modern, secular values collide with fiercely defended religious traditions. The sharp Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rivalry illustrates this divide. Tel Aviv prides itself on its hip nightclubs and a laid-back, cosmopolitan attitude, while an hour's drive away, in some Jerusalem neighborhoods, ultra-orthodox men re-create the customs of 17th century Poland and wear long, black waistcoats and beaver hats that make them broil in the Mediterranean sun.
Making up half of the Holy City's Jewish residents, the ultra-Orthodox ride their own buses, send their kids to religious schools and have the power to close off their neighborhoods to cars on the Sabbath. Any Tel Aviv visitor wandering into these austere communities in shorts and a T-shirt on the Sabbath runs the risk of getting clobbered by a rock.
Even Jerusalem's gays are more subdued than Tel Aviv's. Organizer Canetti says she asked Tel Aviv's participants to tone down their sexy costumes. "We're not having floats or naked men flashing their asses," she says. "We just want to tell people, hey, we're here. We have a right to exist."
Now for my thoughts.
As regular readers of this site know, I originally opposed the Jerusalem parade because I feared it would result in a net setback for gay rights in Israel, and because I was worried about the negative image of Israeli Jews that would likely result from the haredi protests.
But the gay marchers (who, as the previous article indicates, did not copy the notoriously provocative fashions of gay pride events elsewhere) are not responsible for the behavior of the haredi (so-called "ultra-orthodox") Jews. If religious zealots chose to throw a collective temper tantrum in front of the world, they would have nobody but themselves to blame for the resulting damage to the image of Jews everywhere.
The gay pride event challenged Jerusalem's traditional religious community to grow up. It was never a question of whether the hareidi orthodox would approve the event - no one would expect them to - but how they would choose to express their disapproval. Ironically, while reading descriptions of the rioting and the self-justifications of the hareidim, I was once again reminded of the parallel between the insular worldview of Israel's orthodox and that of American left-wingers, which I previously explored here:
Like the religious Zionist movement, the American Left was the only segment of society that was strenghtened, not weakened, by the last war - in our case, Vietnam. Over the next three decades, the liberal movement - that is, the increasingly dogmatic ideology that called itself "liberalism" - consolidated its hold on our media, our educational and cultural institutions. Liberal communities like Berkeley and neighborhoods like, well, the one I live in, ensured that left-leaning Americans could live comfortably without having to rub elbows with "red-staters".
Liberal Americans, guided by a "deep internal sense of being in the right without asking for or needing external confirmation," built and strengthened their own communities but rarely stopped to ask themselves what they might learn from their conservative neighbors...
The compromises made by each side in this controversy are part of the necessary process of Israel's development as a nation. Even the most basic steps - renouncing lewdness and violence - are evidence that the process continues as it must. In the end it can only strengthen Israel's religious community, its gay community, and its society as a whole.
Finally, let me leave you with this article about Israeli lesbian Avigail Sperber, which comes by way of Sarah at Israelity:
Avigail Sperber, 33, is a film director and cinematographer. She has made several documentaries and a short movie, and is currently working on her first full-length film. Her father is Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber, who teaches Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and received the Israel Prize for his achievements in his field. For many years, he chaired the public council for state religious Jewish education. Sperber found it especially difficult to accept the disclosure of his daughter's sexual identity. However, his public position, Avigail stresses, was never a factor in her family's acceptance of her lesbianism. ...
For Avigail, the high point in her family's acceptance of her was reached a year ago, when her younger sister Shuli, who had become ultra-Orthodox, was to be married to a young man who had also become ultra-Orthodox. It was considered only natural to invite both Avigail and her present partner, film director Netali Baron (whose film, "Metamorphosis," about four rape victims, was screened this week on Israel Television's Channel 1). Hannah felt this was not enough and began inviting other lesbian friends of Avigail's whose families had severed contact with them. ("Some girls are no longer welcome in their own homes, even on holidays, even without their partner.")
Two years ago, Hannah started a support group for the religious parents of homosexual/lesbian children (fathers were invited, but only the mothers actually attended). Monthly meetings were held at the Sperber home in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City. Over the past few months they have not met, but Hannah said this week that the controversy generated by the gay pride parade is a good reason to reactivate the group.
Hannah: "Initially, I attended a parental support group at the Open House [a center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT, community in Jerusalem]. However, some parents didn't like going there. That's why I launched the group in my home. There are various levels of attitude with respect to the children in this group. One mother, who's very extreme, said she wouldn't invite her daughter to the weddings or other occasions of her siblings. Another mother, a widow, moved me when she declared that she loved her homosexual son very much. Her greatest fear was that he would stop being religious...
Read the rest at the link.
At its best, Israel stands as a model of what a free and democratic society in the Middle East could be. It can, in effect, say to its Arab and Muslim neighbors: "This is what democracy looks like."
For all related posts, please go to this category archive: Jerusalem Pride 2006.