Jerusalem gears up for gay pride parade under banner ‘LGBTQ and Religion’

4,000 expected to take part in annual event under heavy security; police to allow small anti-protest by far-right activists

Participants at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, July 21, 2016. (Sarah Tuttle-Singer/Times of Israel)
Participants at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, July 21, 2016. (Sarah Tuttle-Singer/Times of Israel)

Thousands of people were expected to march through central Jerusalem Thursday afternoon in the city’s 16th annual LGBTQ pride parade.

This year’s March for Pride and Tolerance will be held under the banner of “LGBTQ and Religion,” and is expected to draw some 4,000 participants to the capital city.

“In a city that has known bloody wars of religion, we have seen and borne the price of hatred against the backdrop of religion,” organizers wrote on their Facebook page. “We will shed light on the complex, deep connections between [various religious groups] and the struggles for partnerships, conflict and dialogue.”

Parade-goers will begin congregating at Liberty Bell Park from 4:30 p.m. At 6, the march will begin, heading up Keren Hayesod and King George streets, before turning onto Meir Shaham, Rabbi Akiva and Hillel streets, and congregating at Independence Park for a closing event at 8 p.m.

Organizers have asked participants to bring flowers that they can place at the site on Keren Hayesod where 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered at the march two years ago by a religious extremist.

Representatives of the Jerusalem Open House march in the city's 2016 Gay Pride Parade, July 21, 2016. (Adi Eddie)
Representatives of the Jerusalem Open House march in the city’s 2016 Gay Pride Parade, July 21, 2016. (Adi Eddie)

The parade is predicted to snarl downtown traffic for hours. Several major arteries through the capital’s center will be shut to traffic starting at 4 p.m., including the parade route from Keren Hayesod through King George and on to Hillel. Many key streets leading to the parade route will also close at that hour, including Agron Street.

Extra security

Security officials were criticized in 2015 for failing to keep anti-gay extremist Yishai Schlissel away from the parade despite the fact that he had just been released from prison for a similar though nonfatal attack against gay pride marchers in 2005 in which he stabbed three people.

Days before he stabbed Banki to death at the parade and wounded several others, Schlissel penned a handwritten anti-gay manifesto in which he called the pride march “shameful” and “blasphemous,” and alluded to plans to perpetrate another attack.

The following year, police introduced additional security measures for the Jerusalem march. This year, hundreds of extra officers and border guards will be deployed to the area, police said.

The Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 21, 2016 passes the spot where Shira Banki was murdered at 2015's march (Times of Israel)
The Jerusalem Pride Parade on July 21, 2016, passes the spot where Shira Banki was murdered at 2015’s march (Times of Israel)

Like last year, participants cannot join or leave the parade along the route, police said in a statement Wednesday, but only at the starting location in Liberty Bell Park and at Paris Square, where all participants will undergo security checks.

A demonstration against the march by the far-right Lehava organization will take place some distance from the march’s route, outside the police cordon.

Police have informed the group their protest — headlined “Don’t give them children,” a reference to the recently reignited national debate about same-sex adoption in Israel — would be limited to 100 participants.

Earlier this week, several known anti-gay activists received calls from police officers warning them to stay away from the march or telling them they were banned from the city for all of Thursday.

Several hours before the event kicked off, police said they arrested a 33-year-old man from central Israel after he posted threats against march participants online.

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