Two far-right groups held demonstrations in Jerusalem on Thursday, protesting against the city’s annual Pride Parade march and calling to protect ‘the normal family.’
Under the watchful eye of police officers deployed to keep the marchers and protesters apart, the extremist nationalist Lehava organization protested the march near its starting point in Liberty Bell Park. Activists with the group held up signs with slogans stating that “Jerusalem is a holy city,” and comparing the marchers to the Biblical Sodom.
A heavy police presence kept them away from the marchers, three years after a deadly knife attack by an ultra-Orthodox zealot that killed 16-year-old marcher Shira Banki.
The activists, who numbered a few dozen, scuffled briefly with police and said some of the group’s members were on an alleged police “blacklist” and were prevented from approaching the march.
They also claimed that police officers “disguised as gays” infiltrated their protest and detained a number of their members.
Far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir vowed to sue the police for “silencing” the counter-protest.
Across town, the Orthodox group Liba protested at the main entrance to Jerusalem, near the city’s iconic Chords Bridge. The protest drew about 100 people and saw prominent nationalist-religious rabbis demand “a return to a normal family.”
One sign held by the protesters read, “A father + a mother = a family,” and another declared, “The people want a normal life.”
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein said the group sought to protect “the normal family against the attempt to destroy it.”
The march, Jerusalem’s 17th and largest-ever pride parade, kicked off Thursday afternoon with as many as 30,000 Israelis flooding the streets of the capital under heavy police protection.
The two-kilometer march through the city center came after a month of LGBT community protests against a surrogacy law passed last month that excluded gay men.
Some protesters took a distinctly anti-government tone that reflected the anger in the LGBT community over the surrogacy law, calling on Netanyahu to resign and even denouncing last month’s nation-state law.
Organizers handed out flowers to marchers in memory of Banki as they exited the starting point in Liberty Bell Park. Demonstrators chanted their way up Keren Hayesod street, but paused and quieted down when they reached the junction where Banki was murdered. Many placed flowers in front of a large poster with her picture on it.
Security at the annual parade was at an all-time high, with some 2,500 police officers, including border police and plainclothes cops, deployed in the capital to protect the event. As in each year since the 2015 stabbing attack, police restricted entry points into the march, and performed security checks on participants.
“Our job is to make sure everyone can express themselves,” Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich told journalists at the event, “and of course that no one gets hurt.”
Major roads through the city center, including Keren Hayesod and Hillel Street, were closed to vehicular traffic from 3 p.m.