Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in central Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon for the Jerusalem Pride Parade to call for tolerance toward the LGBTQ community and its right to equality, while expressing overtly anti-government sentiment and opposition to its currently frozen judicial overhaul program.
An estimated 30,000 people turned out for the parade amid heavy security and the presence of some 2,000 police and riot police officers, as well as several lines of police barriers separating the parade from a far-right protest across the road.
The event passed smoothly without any security incidents.
The Jerusalem Open House which organizes the event said that the number of participants was a record high since the parade in 2016, a year after 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered in a knife attack during the event by an ultra-Orthodox extremist.
Taking part in a police security assessment, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said his priority was to ensure that any similar attack was prevented.
“It is clear that in my role as national security minister, I do and will do everything so that there won’t be a crazy incident like the murder of the girl Shira Banki,” said Ben Gvir, who leads the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party and who prior to becoming a minister was repeatedly involved in protests against the event.
Following the situation assessment, Ben Gvir walked past the gathering point for the parade at Liberty Bell Park accompanied by bodyguards and ministerial vehicles, where he was loudly jeered by the crowd who called out “Shame” and “Nazis out.”
In 2006, Ben Gvir was involved in the “beasts parade” hate march against the LGBTQ community, although he has recently moderated his stance and called LGBTQ individuals “my brothers and sisters” back in 2021.
On Thursday evening, Kan news reported that a “beast march” by far-right activists had been canceled, following a request by Ben Gvir’s erstwhile political mentor and Otzma Yehudit founder Michael Ben Ari.
Ben Ari was reportedly concerned that the aggressive nature of that protest would drown out the message of opposition to what that event’s organizers described as “the abomination parade in Jerusalem and the other cities in Israel.”
Some 30 protestors did, however, gather across the road from Liberty Bell Park to demonstrate against the parade, with the small rally organized by far-right, extremist rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, another former member of Otzma Yehudit.
Extremist, far-right rabbi Bentzi Gopstein shouts “it’s not pride it’s an abomination” at the protest against the Jerusalem Pride Parade… pic.twitter.com/70oEICPcj9
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) June 1, 2023
Another protest against the parade was held by Jerusalem’s Bridge of Strings and attended by Baruch Marzel, another former Otzma Yehudit member, as well as hardline religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and other religious and far-right opponents of the LGBTQ community.
But spirits were high at the parade itself, with live music, effusive dancing and a congenial atmosphere prevailing.
The march was formally started by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who tweeted about it on Friday.
Shabbat shalom from the Jerusalem Pride Parade! pic.twitter.com/LCBmHah1di
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) June 2, 2023
Anti-government political sentiment was prevalent among the participants, with signs, placards, posters and merchandise all expressing hostility to the current coalition and its political goals.
T-shirts with “I love the High Court of Justice” emblazoned across them were on sale, while participants held signs declaring “There’s no pride without democracy,” both referencing the government’s desire to curtail the authority of the High Court and exert control over the judiciary.
Anthems from the judicial overhaul protests such as “You’re messing with the wrong generation,” were also sung, while the Brothers in Arms protest group and others were also present at the event.
Noam Adkin came from Haifa for the parade, and said it was important for him to be at the event this year due to far-right elements in the current government.
“The most hateful people are in the government right now so the parade feels more important than ever,” said Adkin, noting that he and a group of friends had been verbally abused by youths as they made their way to the event.
Gal Barsinai said that the parade had a different feel from previous years, and that he felt that this year’s event “is not about fighting for progress but fighting to preserve what we have right now.”
Added Barsinai: “We’re not going to let regressive conservative, even homophobic, and very hostile elements in the government take away what we have gained.”
Yehonatan Elitzur from Mevasseret Zion said similarly that he was attending the march to “fight for equality and against hatred,” and said that despite progress in Israel the LGBTQ community still suffers from discrimination and intolerance.
“I feel this hatred. I’ve felt it at work, in my military service, and in Jerusalem especially I feel a dark cloud of intolerance,” said Elitzur, who grew up in the capital.
A marcher identifying herself as Ada, who made aliyah from St. Petersburg, Russia in December, had her own perspective.
She said that “discrimination and homophobia” in Russia were both rampant and official government policy, and that the LGBTQ community there could no longer express itself openly.
“I have no choice, I have to be here, you see me here alone, but I feel like all my friends from Russia are here behind me and I am representing them,” she said.