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Anger as Mitzpe Ramon LGBT march sidelined and counter-protest okayed on its route

Organizers file High Court petition, denounce alleged threats from local yeshiva, after police reroute pride parade to city’s outskirts due concerns of public disorder

Marchers in last year's Mitzpe Ramon LGBT pride march, July 2, 2021. (Flash90)
Illustrative: People participate in the first Gay Pride Parade in Mitzpe Ramon, on July 2, 2021. (Flash90)

Organizers of an LGBT pride march in the southern city of Mitzpe Ramon filed a petition Sunday with the High Court of Justice, Israel’s top court, against a police decision to move the event from the city center to its outskirts and instead allow a counter-demonstration along the pride march’s original route.

The pride march, which is scheduled for Friday, had been approved by police following a request last month, the Ynet website reported.

But last week, police notified organizers that they were changing the route due to intelligence that indicated with “near-certainty” that marching along the original route would cause “severe and serious harm to public safety and public order.”

According to the report, the Midbara K’Eden yeshiva in the city had asked permission to hold a protest along a section of the march’s approved route — and was granted it.

In May, the head of Midbara K’Eden, Rabbi Tzvi Kustiner, spoke out against the LGBT community, which he described as “evil” and replete with violence and sexual assault. Kustiner called on his followers: “Don’t be embarrassed, be brave! Wherever you work, say ‘LGBTs go home!’ and ‘Homos, go home!'”

Pride march organizers told Ynet that “it is important to stress that the struggle is over democracy. In Israel, basic human rights are being trampled.”

They said the new route takes them around the outskirts of the city rather than through the central streets.

The High Court petition was filed on behalf of march organizers by the Keshet non-profit, a local culture lobby group, and the Be Free Israel liberal organization, which campaigns for policy change on religion and state. In the petition, the groups wrote that the decision to change the pride march route due to the counter-demonstration was “inconsistent with common sense or the law.”

Attorneys for the petitioners said in a statement that changing the route “significantly deviates from the duty of the police to protect public order” and that it is the counter-demonstration that should be moved instead.

“Unfortunately, threats against the LGBT community are too often used to try and push it to the margins of public space,” the attorneys said.

They said that the local Orthodox community is working to prevent the march from going ahead and that the yeshiva students are inciting against the LGBT community with flyers, hate graffiti and banners displayed from private homes.

Rabbi Tzvi Kustiner (Screen capture: YouTube)

Police said in response to Sunday’s report that “our evaluation is based on both the intelligence picture and the situation assessments, as in any incident, and includes overt and covert police activity before and during the event.”

They said police had yet to receive the petition and would respond in court.

“We will continue to allow freedom of expression and protest as a matter of law,” police said.

Last year, Mitzpe Rimon Mayor Roni Marom also spoke out against the annual march — which was being held for the first time in the city — saying it was “a mistake” by the LGBT community “to externalize their sexuality.” The march went ahead anyway with 300 people attending.

There are often counter-protests by extreme right and religious groups against LGBT events in Israel, including against the Jerusalem pride march, one of the largest held in the country. This year’s event in Jerusalem was held under tight security after threats were made against an organizer and lawmakers who said they would participate.

Intimidation resulted in the cancellation of this year’s pride march in Netivot, after a bullet was sent to the mother of one of the organizers.

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

Midbara K’Eden and its head were recently embroiled in another controversy when students who are serving in the IDF reportedly asked to be excused from a major exercise because there was a female officer involved. The students reportedly consulted with Kustiner, who told them to ask for permission to skip the drill, which they did. Their commanding officer agreed.

Although media reports claimed Kustiner told the soldiers to refuse any order to participate, the yeshiva later stressed that he told them only to ask for permission to be excluded and did not tell them to disobey orders.

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