Jerusalem chief rabbi urges mayor not to put up LGBT flags that ‘mar’ the city

Jerusalem chief rabbi urges mayor not to put up LGBT flags that ‘mar’ the city

But municipality says it will hang banners ahead of next week’s pride parade; committee blocks budget for LGBT rights group, sending matter to city council

Rabbi Aryeh Stern on May 10, 2015. (FLASH90)
Rabbi Aryeh Stern on May 10, 2015. (FLASH90)

Jerusalem’s chief rabbi on Monday sent a formal letter to Mayor Moshe Lion asking him to prevent LGBT flags from being put up ahead of the annual pride parade, because they “mar the city.”

“Unfortunately, I have to address the painful topic of the ‘parade’ about to be held next week,” Rabbi Aryeh Stern wrote in the letter, which was leaked to the press. “I know that by law the mayor doesn’t have the authority to prevent the parade and therefore I ask you to at least give an order not to hang the flags, which mar the city.”

“I trust you to act wisely and spare us this embarrassment,” Stern told Lion, a political ally of the city’s ultra-Orthodox council members.

In previous years, ultra-Orthodox and religious council members were angered by the pride flags put up next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue on King George Street, along which the pride parade passes.

A rainbow gay pride flag hanging in front of the Great Synagogue in central Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that the flags would be put up like in previous years ahead of the June 6 rally, in accordance with court rulings on the matter.

LGBT rights activist Idan Roll at a press conference organized by the Yesh Atid party in Tel Aviv on February 7, 2019. (Courtesy)

Idan Roll, a gay Knesset member for the Blue and White party, called for Stern’s “immediate” dismissal, since “there is no place in public service for a person with such unenlightened and offensive views.”

Roll linked Stern’s remark to a 2009 shooting that killed two people in a Tel Aviv gay youth center and the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old girl during the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade by an ultra-Orthodox anti-gay extremist.

“It is infuriating to hear that two weeks before pride events kick off — especially in the year when we mark a decade since the murder at the Bar-Noar center and four years since the murder of Shira Banki — the Jerusalem chief rabbi comes out with despicable and dangerous remarks that are inciting against the [LGBT] community,” he said.

Also on Monday, local LGBT rights groups suffered a symbolic defeat as a municipal committee voted against approving the annual budget for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the main group providing help to LGBT youth in the city and fighting for LGBT rights.

Participants in Jerusalem”s annual Gay Pride Parade hold up a picture of the murdered Shira Banki on August 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The budget of about NIS 500,000 ($139,000) was rejected in a six to five vote, primarily due to ultra-Orthodox objection. However, the decision isn’t final as the matter now will be taken to the city council, which will hold a vote on Thursday.

Secular council member Ofer Berkovitch, who narrowly lost the mayoral elections in October 2018 to Lion, accused the mayor and his ultra-Orthodox allies of “continuing to harm the sensitive status quo in Jerusalem,” adding that it was an “illegal decision that contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The Jerusalem municipality reacted by saying it was acting to “preserve the status quo and respect any person. The Open House budget will be approved at the city council on Thursday, like every year.”

Jerusalem mayoral candidates Ofer Berkovich (L) and Moshe Lion during an October 21, 2018 debate ahead of the Jerusalem Municipality elections on October 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, the Jerusalem Open House said it would not accept a police proposal to ID participants upon their entrance at the demonstration.

“The demand for IDs at the parade raises serious concerns about privacy, even if the intentions are good,” the LGBT rights group said in a statement, referring to authorities’ efforts to ensure a safe rally four years after Banki’s murder.

“No one will scare us and no one will prevent us from marching,” the statement added.

The police proposal has never before been utilized at previous pride parades or any other public protests in recent years.

People participate in the annual Gay Pride parade in central Jerusalem, under heavy security on August 3, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

This Friday will mark the beginning of pride month in Israel with a parade in the central city of Kfar Saba. Some 50 other pride parades will be held throughout the country in the coming weeks, most of them at colleges and universities.

The largest expected event is the annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade, which the city is predicting will attract hundreds of thousands of participants from around the country and the globe. The rally, typically viewed as a celebratory party, is expected to take on a protest-like vibe with organizers seeking to raise awareness of the discrimination suffered by the LGBT community, whose members face extensive hurdles in legally marrying and starting families in Israel.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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