A year after Jerusalem’s pride parade was beset by deadly violence and amid a roiling scandal of anti-gay comments by prominent rabbinical figures, the capital’s mayor said he would not attend the highly charged march for fear of offending the religious community, in an interview published Wednesday.
Nir Barkat told newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that while he supported the LGBT community’s right to march, he could not personally participate.
“It is their right to march. The city of Jerusalem, myself and the police will do everything possible to allow them to enjoy that right. But they must know that it offends others. Tolerance means not only permitting people to march but also to find the way for them to do so without hurting the sensibilities or the feelings of others,” Barkat told the popular tabloid.
The comments set off an immediate firestorm, with at least one politician accusing Barkat of siding with the man who killed a teen, Shira Banki, and injured four others in a stabbing attack on the parade a year ago.
Police announced Tuesday they would beef up security surrounding the annual march through central Jerusalem and force participants to undergo a security check, measures intended to prevent the violence that marred the 2015 parade.
The move came a day after the US consulate warned citizens to exercise caution if they attend the parade.
The parents of slain teen Banki have urged the public to attend the parade in her honor and organizers say they expect some 5,000 people to march.
Support for the parade has also ramped up in a lashback to derogatory comments by prominent rabbis, including army preparatory yeshiva head Yigal Levinstein, who referred to gays as “deviants.”
But Barkat also said the march itself was “damaging to the ultra-Orthodox and national-religious communities.”
“Jerusalem has a large population that has a hard time with the parade,” he said. “As mayor I represent everyone. The LGBT community needs to be considered, just as the LGBT community needs to be considerate of the Haredi and religious community.”
In response, MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) tweeted that Barkat had sided with the religious over the LGBT community.
“Harming the secular and the parents of Shira Banki is totally okay,” she wrote sarcastically. “Between Shira Banki and [her killer] Yishai Schlissel, Barkat is choosing Yishai Schlissel.”
Meretz head Zehava Galon echoed the sentiments.
“A year ago a girl was killed in your city, Barkat,” she wrote on Twitter. “Somehow, the sensitivities of the religious public don’t seem to me right now the most pressing thing you need to worry about.”
אבל פגיעה בציבור החילוני ובהורים של שירה בנקי זה ממש בסדר. בין שירה בנקי לישי שליסל ניר ברקת בוחר בישי שליסל. pic.twitter.com/fWZD0AKwfg
— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) July 20, 2016
Responding to the criticism, Barkat reiterated his commitment to the city’s LGBT community, promising to “continue to fight tirelessly for their right to march, and also for funds, support and full cooperation from the municipality.”
“Jerusalem won’t be like Beersheba,” he vowed, referring to the cancellation last month of that city’s first gay pride march in protest of what organizers said was a lack of municipal support for the community. “I wholeheartedly support the right of the LGBT community to march in Jerusalem. Tomorrow, I will personally go to the place where Shira Banki, may her memory be blessed, was murdered, and will place a flower [at the site].”
But he defended his decision not to march in this year’s parade. “It’s no secret there are those who are offended by the march…. As the mayor of everyone [in the city], who respects all the communities of Jerusalem, I choose to act in a variety of other avenues for the LGBT community, and our actions speak for themselves.”
Though the parade route avoids largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of the city, the annual march has long drawn vociferous protests from the religious community.
Barkat also ordered pride flags which have been placed along the parade route removed from in front of the city’s Great Synagogue at the request of the city’s chief rabbi, Israel National News reported Wednesday.
Schlissel’s attack on the pride parade in 2015 came just weeks after the ultra-Orthodox zealot was let out of prison, where he served a 10-year sentence for a similar though nonfatal attack on the 2005 pride parade in which he stabbed three people.
In a Facebook post last week, Ori and Mika Banki wrote, “Marching on Jerusalem’s Pride March is not just about showing support to the LGBTQ community; it is also about supporting ideas of tolerance and equality for all. To us, it also means standing in resistance to violence as a way of solving any dispute or argument.”
The parade will begin at Liberty Bell Park, then go along Keren Hayesod Street, King George Street, Meir Shaham Street, Rabbi Akiva Street, Hillel Street, Menashe Ben Israel Street and end at Independence Park.
Police will close all of those streets and as well as those leading to them from 2:30 p.m.