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Amid death threats, police on high alert for Jerusalem pride parade

More than 2,400 officers deployed; police identify 180 potential attackers after several lawmakers, organizer of event receive death threats referencing Shira Banki’s murder

Thousands of people take part in the annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Thousands of people take part in the annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police were on high alert in Jerusalem on Thursday ahead of the Jerusalem Pride Parade after threats were made against an organizer of this year’s march, along with lawmakers who plan to attend, referencing the murder of a teen at the 2015 event.

Police said they would be deploying more than 2,400 officers to protect the march and had identified and were monitoring some 180 people who could pose a threat to participants. At least 20 of the suspects were considered highly likely to try and attack the event, they said.

Pride events in Jerusalem are always tense affairs with right-wing and religious counterprotests a constant along with a history of deadly violence.

This was heightened on Wednesday after a message was sent to Jerusalem Open House community director Emuna Klein Barnoy warning that: “We will not allow the Pride Parade to take place in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the Holy City. Shira Banki’s fate awaits you.”

The message was also sent to MKs Gilad Kariv (Labor), Naama Lazimi (Labor) and Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White).

Late Wednesday, police said they had arrested a man in his 20s suspected of sending the threats. The man, a Jerusalem resident, was not identified. He will be brought before a court in the city on Thursday to have his remand extended.

Activists from the extremist Jewish group Lehava protest against Jerusalem’s pride parade, August 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The threatening messages were sent on Facebook and Twitter from an account under the name of “The brothers of Yishai Schlissel,” according to the network.

Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, stabbed 16-year-old Banki to death during the 2015 parade just three weeks after he was released from prison where he served an eight-year sentence for a stabbing attack at the same march 10 years earlier.

Police also instituted a raft of security measures for the march that will see people starting to gather at 3 p.m at Liberty Bell Park, with the march beginning at 5 p.m heading up Keren Hayesod and King George streets. The march is set to conclude downtown, at Independence Park, later in the evening.

Access to the march will only be allowed from four designated points along the route where police will be checking participants. No one will be allowed in if carrying a firearm.

In addition, marchers will only be able to exit the route at specific points. Much of downtown Jerusalem will be closed off to vehicular traffic.

It was not immediately clear how many marchers are expected with numbers in recent years down due largely to the COVID pandemic. Last year some 7,500 people took part.

Reacting to the threats, Shira Banki’s father Ori called them “terribly sad” and “a waste,” but acknowledged that it’s “legitimate” for people to oppose the rally.

“I think otherwise… I thought that way before Shira was murdered, and I think that way now,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

“It’s a public space, and it’s a public space for everyone,” he noted, adding that while he understood the challenges faced by police due to the threats, “we need to allow the march.”Participants in the annual Jerusalem Gay Pride parade place flowers at a memorial for Shira Banki, who was murdered during the parade in 2015, on June 6, 2019. (Times of Israel)

Addressing the cancellation of a pride march in the southern city of Netivot, due to bullets sent to the mother of one of the organizers, Banki lamented that such violent threats had managed to achieve their goal.

Nonetheless, Banki insisted that Israeli society was becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community.

“Ten years ago, nobody would have thought of doing a pride parade in Netivot… This year, people sought to do so, and although it wasn’t carried out… I think in another five years they will march there,” he said.

Pride marches are held annually in several locations across the country. Tel Aviv puts on the largest pride, with tens of thousands typically attending. It is scheduled to take place this year on June 10.

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