A far-right group is gearing up for potential violence at Thursday’s Jerusalem Pride Parade, posting many threatening messages in an internal chat group wishing for the deaths of the pro-LGBTQ marchers, a report said Monday.
One group member posted a banner for a counter-protest against the Parade, adding: “Deadly Thursday in Jerusalem,” Channel 12 news reported, citing information from the FakeReporter social media watchdog.
Some of the other messages said: “May all the marchers die from machine gun fire,” “I don’t understand why not to burn all the gentiles coming to defile the land,” and “Maybe Iran’s bomb will restore order here.”
The incitement has been posted in a Telegram group called “Jews don’t stay silent,” belonging to extremist organization Lehava, which is led by veteran far-right activist Bentzi Gopstein, a close political ally of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and once a candidate on the electoral slate of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party.
Ben Gvir, who was once at the forefront of the extremist protests against the parade before gaining responsibility for the police force and for the march’s security arrangements this year, has rejected calls from the annual parade’s organizers for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sideline him from dealing with the event, Hebrew media reported Sunday.
The far-right minister has reportedly said he will hold situational assessments ahead of the march and be present at the police’s command center at the event.
“Even though I’m not enthusiastic about the existence of the parade, I don’t want a single hair on the head of the marchers to be hurt, and I will do everything to get comprehensive security,” Ben Gvir told associates, according to Channels 12 and 13.
The Pride event is slated to begin at 3 p.m. on Thursday, and the march will set out at 5 p.m. The protest against the march will be held at 3:30 p.m. Many central roads in Jerusalem will be closed to both vehicular and foot traffic, police said, vowing to prevent any kind of violence, public disturbances or infringements against the parade.
Some 2,000 cops — some of them undercover — are expected to be deployed along the march’s route and around it, police said in a statement Monday.
Gopstein attended the Monday faction meeting of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit coalition party, according to Hebrew media.
עכשיו בכנסת, האורח הקבוע בנצי גופשטיין נכנס לחדר הסיעה של עוצמה יהודית
מעניין אם הוא בא לבחון את הפריסה של משטרת ישראל לקראת מצעד הגאווה בירושלים pic.twitter.com/TLEbYWs3MH
— Noa Shpigel (@NoaShpigel) May 29, 2023
Lehava has received approval from the police to hold the counter-protest on Thursday afternoon at Bloomfield Garden, close to where the Pride Parade will be held at the same time. Posters advocating the counter-protest are referring to the Pride Parade as the “Abomination Parade.”
Contacted by Channel 12, Gopstein sought to distance himself and his organization from the inciting messages, saying: “I’m organizing a legal demonstration, which is the essence of democracy. I’m against any illegal act and I call on everyone to come and demonstrate legally. If anyone wants to do something illegal, you should contact police and they should be arrested, this has nothing to do with Lehava.”
But FakeReporter, an initiative self-described as dedicated to “fighting disinformation, hate speech, and other malicious online activities,” was unconvinced.
“Monitoring online discourse, we conclude that violence over the past 24 hours is being fanned by the activities of Lehava,” it said. “Experience teaches us that violence on social media ends in the streets. We urge the Israel Police to arrest the inciters and stop the incitement ahead of time, before innocent people are harmed.”
In their call to bar Ben Gvir from dealing with the Parade, the heads of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance had said they were concerned that the far-right minister may “improperly” interfere in the march, citing his participation in counter rallies in past years, according to their letter to the premier.
“The minister was part of the [homophobic] ‘Beast Parades,’ petitioned the courts several times to cancel the parade, decisively spoke out against it, and represented the family member of the murderer Yishai Schlissel,” their letter to Netanyahu read.
Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox extremist, murdered teenage marcher Shira Banki at the parade in 2015. Ben Gvir represented Schlissel’s brother, Michael, after the latter was arrested on suspicion of planning to also carry out an attack in 2016.
“He is not a suitable person to oversee the parade and certainly does not inspire the confidence and trust of the marchers,” the organizers wrote. They pleaded to the prime minister to prevent Ben Gvir from visiting the police command center during the parade and personally overseeing the event.
The far-right minister made appearances at the police’s Tel Aviv command center at the height of anti-judicial overhaul protests earlier in the year. Critics alleged that his presence led to harsher policing tactics against anti-government activists.
Up until 2019, Ben Gvir attended counterprotests led by religious extremists against the Jerusalem Pride Parade.
Unlike its festive Tel Aviv counterpart, the Jerusalem Pride Parade is subject to heavy security and restrictions, in particular following Banki’s killing, due to animosity toward marchers by many of the city’s residents.
Schlissel carried out the 2015 stabbing attack just a few weeks after he was released from prison, where he had served 10 years for stabbing and injuring marchers at the 2005 parade. He is currently serving a term of life in prison.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Monday that he would attend this year’s parade.
“It’s the most important one there has ever been because this year the parade is to protect the rights that we thought that we have and that no one could take,” Lapid said. “This government is plotting to take them and it’s part of the judicial overhaul and we will be there to say it won’t happen.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.