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Israel: Jerusalem Pride, Democratic Shame

A true democracy cannot exist without the right to protest. It faces decay when one is not allowed to walk down its city streets and express personal opinions. This is ever more crucial when dealing with the capital city of a democratic state; especially one that holds a variety of communities, each with diverse opinions and beliefs. A city like Jerusalem which is in the midst of yet another struggle, this time over the planned Jerusalem Pride Walk, which is set to take place this month. Certain figures in the Israeli Knesset are acting to prevent this from happening, by changing basic existing laws. Israeli bloggers have been writing passionately, asking for their voices to be heard and amplified:

On June 6th, 2007, the Israeli Knesset voted on and passed the initial stages for two law proposals aimed at preventing the possibility for the planned Jerusalem Pride Parade to take place. The law proposes a change in the existing Basic Law: Jerusalem, which would give the city's municipality legal power to forbid walks or protests “for reasons of hurting the general public sensitivity or for religious purposes”. This proposal is yet another threat to democracy in Israel, especially after the recent voting on proposition 892, for the enforcement of internet censorship. Even if it will probably not pass in time to cancel the planned Jerusalem Pride Parade (June 12th), it is making people reflect upon the complexity of societies that co-exist in Israel, and criticize the Knesset members for playing political power games and not gathering a majority to vote against these law proposals, which cancel the very basic citizen right for freedom of speech: the right to rally. The given criteria of “hurting the public sensitivity” is vague and dangerous, from which the municipality can carve out whatever it deems appropriate. It will be granted legal powers to prevent groups or minorities in the Israeli society from rallying in their capital city.

In his blog, the red-green blog, Dov Hanin, a current Hadash Knesset member expresses his thoughts:

בירושלים הרגשות עזים במיוחד. אבל דווקא בשל כך, גם הסובלנות צריכה להיות חזקה במיוחד. ירושלים היא עיר קדושה, אבל היא גם עיר מגוונת, פלורליסטית. ל”בית הפתוח” אין שום רצון להתגרות במקומות קדושים או להגיע לשכונות דתיות. יש להם רצון לבטא את עצמם בעיר שהיא גם עיר שלהם, לא פחות מאשר עירו של מישהו אחר. אין לקבל, וגם אין לשתוק, למול ניסיונות למנוע מהם לעשות זאת. להיפך: יש לומר בקול חד וברור, שזכותו של מצעד הגאווה והסובלנות לצעוד ברחובות ירושלים היא זכות דמוקרטית יסודית, וחובה להגן עליה. אין להסכין עם הסתה אלימה, שבשנה שעברה כבר נוכחנו עד כמה היא מסוכנת, כאשר מפגין אלים דקר בסכין שלושה ממשתפי המצעד.

המאבק על קיום מצעד הגאווה, ולמען שוויון, הכרה וזכויות לקהילה הגאה, הוא חלק בלתי נפרד מהמאבק על דמותה של הדמוקרטיה בישראל.

We all need to be tolerant, specifically because the general feelings are so strong in Jerusalem, which is a holy city, but also a diverse and pluralistic one. The Open House (an activist LGBT organization in Jerusalem) doesn’t have any intentions to cause agitation in the holy places, nor to reach the religious neighborhoods. They long to express themselves within a city that is also their own, not less than someone else’s city. We must not accept, or stay silent against the attempt to limit this right from them. On the contrary, we must speak loud and clear. It is the basic democratic right for the Gay Pride and Tolerance March to take place in the streets of Jerusalem; and it is our duty to protect it. We must not become accustomed to the dangers of violence, which we all witnessed last year, when an extremist opposer stabbed three participants with a knife.

This struggle for the existence of the Jerusalem Pride events, of equality, and acceptance of the gay community rights, is inseparable from the struggle over the democratic identity of the State of Israel.

In A Yellow Plebeian's Blog, the author writes:

הממסד החרדי שונא אותי. בחיי אני מפריע לצביון העיר הקדושה. אני לא שומר שבת, אני אפילו הולך למסעדות בשבת – תתפלאו כמה הרבה מקומות פתוחים כאן היום. אני רואה סרטים בשבת, אני נוסע ברחובות העיר (לא באזורים החרדים), אני חי כאן. בירושלים, שהיא עדיין הבירה של מדינת ישראל, מדינה דמוקרטית שבה לא רק לרוב אלא גם למיעוט יש זכויות שאי אפשר ואסור לרמוס. ולכן אני גם רוצה להפגין את זכותי האלמנטרית כאזרח לצעוד כאן. ליצור נראות למיעוט מדוכא, שרובו לא מעיז לצעוד, ולומר: אני כאן, ואני לא מתבייש במי שאני.

העניין הוא מהותי יותר. המיעוט שאני שייך אליו חוצה מחנות. יש המון הומואים דתיים, לסביות חרדיות, גייז שמתפללים במסגד כל שבוע. חשוב לי שגם הם יכירו את היכולת לחיות בגלוי.

The religious establishment hates me. I stand in the way of this holy city’s image. I don’t observe the Sabbath, I even go to restaurants on Saturday – you’d be surprised how many places are open during Sabbath nowadays. I see movies during Sabbath. I drive the city streets (not in the religious neighborhoods). I live here. In Jerusalem, which is the capital of the state of Israel, a democratic state where not only the majority, but also minorities have rights which are not allowed to be crushed. This is why I want to protest my basic right as a citizen, to march here. To raise the visibility of an oppressed minority, from which many do not even dare to march, and say: I am here, and I am not ashamed of who I am.

The issue is much more critical. This minority which I belong to, crosses between the different camps. There are many male and female religious gays, and also gays who pray in a mosque every week. It is important for me that they will all know that there exists an option to lead an un-closeted lifestyle.

The writer continues:

בכל שנה בתקופת המצעד קורה משהו מעניין. עשרות חרדים מתקשרים ל”הבית הפתוח”, המרכז ההומולסבי הירושלמי שמארגן את המצעד, ולא מגדפים. הם לא מתקשרים כדי להתווכח אלא כדי לבקש תמיכה וסיוע. זו לא טענה דמגוגית שקלטתי מהאוויר. כמנחה של קבוצת דתיים של הבית הפתוח אני הייתי זה שענה לאנשים מבוגרים, מבולבלים וחוששים, שעשו את הצעד הראשון והצליחו להגיע לטלפון שלי.

המצעד הירושלמי, שלא כמו זה התל אביבי, הוא מצעד סולידי בסך הכל. בניגוד למצג התקשורתי שמחפש את החריג והביזאר, לא מתפשטים במצעד. מגיעים המון אנשים, רובם מאוד סולידיים, מיעוטם צבעוניים במיוחד (וזה יפה בעיניי), וכולם מתבקשים על ידי המארגנים לזכור את הצביון של העיר. אפילו במתחם המיוחד של “המצעד שלנו” אנחנו לא שוכחים היכן אנחנו. אנחנו דווקא מנסים להתחשב ככל יכולתנו. להתחשב, כל עוד ההתחשבות לא דורשת מאיתנו להתחבא בבית שלנו “ולעשות שם מה שאנחנו רוצים

Every year something very interesting happens during this period of the parade. A number of orthodox males call the “open house”, the homo-lesbian center in Jerusalem. They don't curse nor swear, but rather ask for help. This is not some demagogic claim. I have personally answered several of these calls from confused and worried adults, who have taken the first step and managed to make a phone call.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade, unlike its Tel-Aviv counterpart, is a relatively conservative one. Nobody gets naked there. All are asked by the organizers to remember the city’s unique character, and not forget where they are located. We try to take that into account, as long as it doesn’t consist of us staying in our homes “to do what we do” there…

In his post “the blog comes out of the closet“, the writer conveys many of his thoughts:

אינני יכול לשתוק עוד. לראשונה מזה שנים אני, כאזרח המדינה הזאת, מרגיש מאויים. אני מרגיש שציבור אחר במדינה מנסה להפעיל את כוחו על מנת להתעמר בי ולהצר את צעדי, ואני מתכוון להשיב מלחמה שערה בכל דרך שיש לי. בין אם על ידי צעידה כפי שצעדתי היום, בין אם על ידי התנדבות באגודת הלהט”ב (שבה אני פעיל מזה שנים), בין אם ע”י תקתוק מחשבותי על גבי המקלדת בבלוג הזה, ובין אם זה אומר לעלות לירושלים ולצעוד גם שם, ולהסתכן בלינץ` מצד חבורה של פורעי חוק.

I can’t be silent anymore. For the first time in years, as a citizen of this country, I feel threatened. I feel like a part of the public is trying to force and limit me, and I plan to retaliate back in every possible way. If by marching like I did today (in the Tel-Aviv Pride Walk), by volunteering for an LGBT association, by typing my thoughts in this blog, or by going to Jerusalem to walk there as well, in spite of the expected dangers set by violent gangs.

By “violent gangs” the writer refers to the violent opposition that Pride events encounter, especially in Jerusalem. During the 2005 Pride March, a violent extremist by the name of Yishai Shlisal stabbed three participants. Some of this was caught on video and placed online.

The writer continues by commenting on why the Pride Walk should take place specifically in Jerusalem:

מדוע נוכחותי פוגעת בקדושה זו? האם קדושת ירושלים כה שברירית בעיניכם, שהיא תתמוטט ותיעלם אם חבורת הומואים תעבור ברחוב? די עלובה הקדושה הזאת, אם זה אכן כך.

אבל אם לעזוב את התיאולוגיה כרגע ולחזור אל הפרקטיקה – בירושלים ישנה קהילה גאה גדולה, שחיה בעיר, ומעוניינת להפגין כי היא קיימת וזכאית לשיוויון זכויות. ירושלים היא בירת ישראל. מה יותר טבעי עבור ציבור כלשהו מאשר להפגין עבור שיוויון זכויות בעיר בירתו?

Why does my presence in this supposedly “holy” city hurt someone? Is the sacredness of Jerusalem so fragile that it will dissipate if a bunch of gays walk down its streets? If this is the case, this holiness is worthless. A large gay community lives in the city of Jerusalem. This group is interested to show its presence and that it is entitled for equal rights. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. What is more natural for a community than to protest for equal rights in its capital city?

June 8th was the official Tel-Aviv Parade, which has been taking place on a yearly basis. This year, the thousands of participators were met with around 50 demonstrators, claiming some of the following comments: “They want to spread filth in Jerusalem – it won't hurt if we spread some holiness in Tel-Aviv. We will come to Tel-Aviv with animals, to illustrate that this filthy act is unnatural. And we will call upon those people to stop! Stop being proud from what is a shame for this country”.

Leaders of religious communities in Jerusalem got together to decide how to react against the Pride Parade, which is set to take place in the city. Some of their proposals were – blocking roads on Saturday in secular neighborhoods, destructive acts against businesses which open on Sabbath, and a big demonstration in Ramat Aviv (a secular neighborhood just north of Tel-Aviv).

Rabbi Eldad Shmueli tried to explain the orthodox community's opinion towards the Parade: “Does every person who has a bad tendency need to make it visible? At least they should have shame. Many people want to murder or rob a bank, but are scared from the shame and don't follow through. Do we need to tell them ‘no problem’, go rob a bank? go murder and rape?”

Rabbi Shmueli obviously belongs to the extreme right wing of Israeli political thought. Even though he is in definite minority, the topic of Gay rights is still an ultra-sensitive one. This is especially true in a country like Israel, where the secular majority is trying to figure out where the tricky boundaries lie between the religious character engraved in the country's basic laws, and the secular lifestyle that this majority leads. Even within the secular communities, it is a prominent opinion to believe against the right for Gay Parades to exist in Jerusalem. It is highly important for these people to understand that attempting to change a basic law in order to limit a group's right to protest, is unquestionably wrong.

It is crossing the line.

And it is dangerous to sit quietly and do nothing while this happens.

2 comments

  • Timoteo

    Jerusalem,willigly or unwillingly is the Holy City of God.The Creator of Heaven and earth is the God of ISRAEL.Men are not perfect; but God is.God is the Ruler of the Universe.He is the Legislator and the Judge.Is it lawful to contest and contend with the Legislator or the Judge?We have to remember the Sovereignity of God.It is time to recognize that Democracy is not a perfect human system of Government.It is should be prudent NOW to start learnig to recognize the Sovereignity of Yehovah the God of Israel.Let us stop contending with God and be at peace.

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