Three activists from the Jewish extremist group Lehava were arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning on suspicion that they were planning to disrupt a pro-LGBTQ rally set to take place in Jerusalem.
There was no official comment from the police on the arrests.
One of the detainees was named in Hebrew media reports as Moshe Ben Zikri, who last year was detained ahead of the Jerusalem Pride parade after he disguised himself as a member of the LGBTQ community for two consecutive years to enter the parade, climb on the podium and protest against it.
Ben Zikri’s lawyer, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, on Sunday compared the arrest of his client to the detention of anti-corruption activist former air force brig. gen. (res.) Amir Haskel.
“Unfortunately, the Jerusalem Police have not grasped the principles of freedom of expression. We will ask the court to release Ben Zikri unconditionally, as Brig.-Gen. Amir Haskel was released. Freedom of speech is not just for leftists,” Ben Gvir said.
Far-right Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, who in the past boasted of being a “proud homophobe,” and in 2006 was involved in organizing an anti-gay “Beast Parade” in Jerusalem in response to the city’s Gay Pride parade, also compared the response to Ben Zikri’s arrest to the outcry over Haskel’s detention.
“I understand that many politicians and journalists have grown very tired of their heroic struggle for freedom of expression for Amir Haskel, and they simply have no power to protest against the preemptive arrest of just a simple man and a non-brigadier general, to gag him in advance,” tweeted Smotrich.
According to the Walla news site, some 1,200 police officers have been deployed for the pro-LGBTQ event, which will take place in the capital on Sunday after the annual parade was canceled due to coronavirus restrictions.
Lehava reportedly intends to infiltrate and disrupt the event, and has published instructions for its members on how to “not stand out” while slipping into the rally, according to a Thursday report from Channel 12 news.
Lehava also opposes intermarriage and the assimilation of Jews and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel. The group, which some lawmakers have tried to designate a terrorist group, has frequently called for action to be taken against non-Jews in order to “save the daughters of Israel.”
The group published a guide for its members with a “dress code” and other instructions on how to infiltrate the Pride event, said the report, which included what it said was a copy of the pamphlet.
In the behavior section, the guide advises “extroverted body movements, such as ‘talking with the hands.’” The guide advises the Lehava activists to dress in colorful clothing “in order to not stand out,” and includes a guide to “homosexual slang,” the report said.
This year’s annual pride parades in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba were all canceled due to the pandemic.
While much smaller than Tel Aviv’s event, the Jerusalem parade is traditionally a highlight for the city’s vibrant LGBTQ community, which is beset by religious and political tensions ever-present in the capital.
Some 10,000-15,000 people marched in Jerusalem’s 2019 pride parade, with over 2,000 police securing the highly charged event, four years after 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death in a deadly attack on participants by a Jewish extremist.
The Jerusalem Municipality sparked an uproar last week by removing an LGBTQ pride banner from an external wall of a US embassy facility in the capital. The city’s far-right deputy mayor said the embassy had failed to request permission to hang the sign, which expressed support for “tolerance and diversity.”