March comes a day after first openly gay minister appointed

Ahead of Jerusalem Pride, police say they’re recruiting transgender officers

Law enforcement on high alert, with some 2,500 officers deployed to protect estimated 30,000 participants; far-right activist arrested ahead of march

Pride rainbow flags hang on poles on Agron street in central Jerusalem on  June 4, 2019, ahead of the Jerusalem Pride Parade scheduled for June 6 that year (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Pride rainbow flags hang on poles on Agron street in central Jerusalem on June 4, 2019, ahead of the Jerusalem Pride Parade scheduled for June 6 that year (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

More than 2,500 officers were set to be deployed Thursday in Jerusalem as the city hosts its 18th annual Gay Pride parade, with police vowing to “act decisively” against anyone who tried to disrupt the event or harm participants.

Meanwhile, in a clear show of support for the LGBT community, police revealed that in recent months the force has recruited several transgender trainees and that one of them has already completed her course and is working her beat, Channel 12 reported.

The move, together with the preemptive arrest of a right-wing activist, marks a shift for police, who have been widely faulted for failing to adequately protect previous marches and for still not solving a mass shooting at a Tel Aviv gay youth center a decade ago.

Four years ago, 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox extremist. Schlissel had stabbed and wounded three people in 2005 and police were criticized for allowing him to approach the parade again soon after being released from prison.

Jerusalem Pride Parade marchers carry a poster commemorating 16-year-old Shira Banki, murdered by an ultra-Orthodox extremist in a pride march in the capital in 2015, taken August 2, 2018. (Luke Tress/The Times of Israel)

The march also comes a day after Israel appointed its first openly gay cabinet minister.

On Thursday morning, the Israel Police said it had detained two people on suspicion that they were planning to disrupt the parade later in the day. Police offered no details on the identity of the two suspects or their alleged plans.

“The Israel Police will take determined action against any party that intends to  disrupt or that disrupts the orderly course of the Pride Parade held today in Jerusalem,” police said in a statement.

A police official warned on Twitter Wednesday that officers would “act decisively” against anyone who tried to disrupt the event.

Uniformed and plainclothes policemen will be deployed along and around the parade route in central Jerusalem to protect the expected 30,000 participants, police said.

Police will be reinforced by border guards and volunteers to protect the event, which is doubly sensitive and controversial for taking place in the religiously conservative capital.

At 2:30 p.m., police will close Keren Hayessod Street, Plumer Square (at the intersection of Keren Hayesod and Jabotinsky Street), King George Street, Hillel Street, Menashe Ben Israel Street, Agron Street, and a number of other streets. Roads will be reopened as the march progresses.

Marchers are set to gather in the Liberty Bell Park in central Jerusalem between 3:30 pm and 5 p.m., after which they will march to the Independence Park.

Entry and exit points will be at Liberty Bell Park, Paris Square, King David Street and the intersection of Hahistadrut and Shammai streets.

On Wednesday, police arrested a right-wing activist, Moshiko Ben Zikri, who they said disguised himself as a member of the LGBT community for two consecutive years to enter the parade, climb on the podium and protest against the event.

Ben Zikri’s lawyer, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, said police were abusing his right to free speech and protest.

“It’s also permissible to protest against the marchers of the Pride Parade, and if they arrest someone as a preventative move — an illegal arrest — only because he planned to shout at those marchers, then something is wrong here, something is not legal. I ask myself, ‘Where are the knights of democracy and freedom of expression?'” Ben Gvir said.

Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the far-right group Lehava, said his group had received a police permit to protest near the march. Gopstein said they planned to use loudspeakers to disrupt those “bringing disaster to Israel.”

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Gopstein charged, “The purpose of the march is to dissolve the values ​​of the Jewish family and to turn Jerusalem and all of Israel into Sodom.”

He called the march “LGBT terrorism.”

Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation along with LGBT rights and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it as a terrorist group.

On Tuesday, another right-wing group, Hazon (Vision), posted signs around the city protesting same-sex families. The posters countered the LGBT movement with the slogan “Father and Mother = Family. The courage to be normal.” The Jerusalem Municipality ordered that the signs be removed, saying they constituted hate speech.

A sign against same-sex marriage in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. The Hebrew words say “Father and Mother = Family . The courage to be normal.” (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Uri Banki, the father of Shira, who was stabbed to death at the parade four years ago, called on the public not to be deterred and to come to the march.

“If the good stay silent and sit at home, evil will raise its head,” Banki wrote on his Facebook page.

Flowers will be laid at the spot where Banki was murdered at the junction of Keren Hayesod and Washington streets.

Eran Globus, chairman of Jerusalem’s Open House, told Channel 12 on Wednesday that he was expecting an even more heated atmosphere than usual because Israel was entering a new election season.

“We are in the run up to a fateful election campaign and these days are a test for all of us,” he said. “This is not just a struggle for full and equal rights for the gay community but a struggle over the moral image of Israel and over the red lines that we want to lay down. To the Israeli public — from the right and the left, from all sectors of the people — we must not give in to indifference and hand the public space over to hate and violence.”

Last week, the Jerusalem city council approved the annual budget for Open House, an NGO that serves Jerusalem’s LGBT community, after ultra-Orthodox council members left the chamber so as not to vote.

Also last week, Jerusalem’s chief rabbi asked city hall not to hang LGBT flags ahead of the annual pride parade, because they “mar the city.”

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