Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gay Pride in Jerusalem

Balloon arch.

I went to the gay pride march in Jerusalem on Thursday night (see here for posts on past Jerusalem gay pride marches, including the one I went to last year). It was much more relaxed than last year. Only about 2,000 police (still a lot!) were on hand for security (instead of the 7,000) last year. They were much less ubiquitous than last year. Apparently the leaders of the haredi community in Jerusalem decided that it wasn't worth holding protests against the parade - it would only call attention to it, so the police felt less need for a massive presence to protect the marchers.

However, at about 3:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon (while I was getting ready to go over to Independence Park, the starting point of the march), I received a very strange phone call. I picked up the phone, expecting to hear a friend's voice, but instead I heard someone shouting in Yiddish. It turned out to be an automatic phone call, telling the listener about an anti-gay rally in Shabbat Square (the center of Meah Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem) set to begin at 4:00 p.m., and imploring attendance at this rally. I heard later on the radio that there had been a protest in Meah Shearim and that some garbage bins were set on fire (a favorite tactic of ultra-Orthodox agitators when they're protesting something).

I also saw some anti-gay graffiti in the city, but that was really the extent of the anti-gay action that occurred this year.

The parade this year seemed to me to have more younger people, and fewer of the liberal Jerusalemite pro-human rights crowd than last year. There was a hearty representation of Hadash, the Israel communist party, as well as of Meretz (a left-wing Zionist party). The communists in particular chanted very loudly for the whole length of the march. There were also representatives of Bat-Kol, an organization for religious lesbians which I hadn't heard of before. People also came from other cities - Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva - in organized groups to support their Jerusalemite kin.

Red flags - note the hammer and sickle!

At the end there was a rally in Gan Ha-Pa'amon (Liberty Bell Park) called in Hebrew a "happening" (הפניג), the sixties word which has charmingly remained in Hebrew. It lasted about an hour, with several speakers. The MC was a drag queen who was very funny. The head of the Open House (the Jerusalem LGBT center which organized the march) spoke, as did an openly gay member of the Jerusalem city council, someone from Meretz, a couple of transgender people, and a representative of Bat Kol.

Bat Kol balloons.

All in all, a satisfying march, unmarred by the commercialism that seems to have taken over gay pride marches in the U.S.

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