LGBT groups put protest on hold ahead of Jerusalem Pride Parade

Organizers say they fear the protest would detract from Thursday’s march, expected to be largest the capital has seen in the wake of criticism over surrogacy law that excludes gays

Illustrative: Israelis walking past the Knesset during the annual gay parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Israelis walking past the Knesset during the annual gay parade in Jerusalem, July 29, 2010. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

LGBT organizations announced Monday they were calling off a planned protest, fearing it would detract from the Jerusalem Pride Parade set for later in the week, which they expect to be the largest the city has ever seen in the wake of widespread anger over a law that bars gay men from surrogacy parenthood rights.

“The LGBT community organizations have decided at this stage to focus our efforts of the Pride and Tolerance Parade in Jerusalem which is expected to be the largest ever held in the city and delay our protest,” Aguda, Israel’s umbrella organization for the LGBT community, said in a statement.

The Jerusalem march, set for Thursday, comes after some 100,000 people packed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square last week to protest the exclusion of single men from the surrogacy law, which has drawn accusations of LGBT discrimination in the Jewish state.

The statement said they had decided to cancel the protest, fearing it would divert resources and attention from the march in Jerusalem, a conservative and religious city, which has been marred by violence in previous years. It was unclear when the protest had originally been planned for.

Instead, they would drive a convoy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the day of the march, Aguda said, adding that they had police permission to do so.

Last year some 22,000 people took part in the parade according to police estimates, under the watchful eye of 1,000 police. The annual march was the scene of a deadly attack three years ago, and often draws protests from the far-right and ultra-Orthodox community.

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

Shira Banki, 16, was stabbed to death at the 2015 Pride Prade by Yishai Schlissel, who had just been released from prison for carrying out a stabbing attack 10 years earlier. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Following Sunday’s massive protest at Rabin Square, the heads of the LGBT community last week presented a list of demands for “equality and freedom,” threatening continued demonstrations if they are not met.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv the community presented a document, endorsed by 14 LGBT organizations, listing what it expects from the government, stressing they would accept nothing less than “full equality” and an “end to discrimination.”

The demands were divided into six categories: preventing violence against the LGBT community, full recognition of gay families, including equality in surrogacy, providing appropriate social welfare to LGBT people, equality in health care, and educating the general population for tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community and allocating at least NIS 50 million ($13.75) for the community.

Chen Arieli, head of the Association for LGBT, told Hadashot news that if the demands were not met, “we will continue the struggle, as we have been doing even before the big protest. The protest proved that we have strength in the field.”

“We need to take a position of strength and change the balance of power,” she added.

A protest for LGBT rights at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on July 22, 2018. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Last Sunday night, tens of thousands of Israelis packed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the exclusion of gay couples from the surrogacy law, which has drawn accusations of LGBT discrimination in the Jewish state.

Many of the protesters focused their anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had pledged to pass legislation supporting surrogacy for gay fathers, but then voted against it, reportedly under pressure from ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Possibly signaling a future shift in position from Netanyahu, his wife Sara said Sunday that she would be throwing her support behind the demands of the LGBT community.

“I don’t think that they do not have equal rights, our country is very progressive,” she told a group of activists. “You have someone who is thinking about you. Everything will be OK.  The prime minister is very supportive, you need to give him time, be patient and everything will be fine.”

Illustrative image of members of the LGBT community and supporters participating in a demonstration against a Knesset bill amendment denying surrogacy for same-sex couples, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The protests have generated widespread support. Dozens of companies and local branches of multinationals based in Israel announced their support for the day of protest and their willingness to allow employees to participate in it. Some said they would be implementing new policies to help workers become parents via a surrogate, regardless of sexual orientation.

The protests were announced shortly after the Knesset passed a surrogacy bill which extended eligibility to single women, but not to men, effectively preventing homosexual couples from having a child via a surrogate.

Amid mounting criticism, Netanyahu later denied that he changed his position on surrogate parenthood for same-sex couples, saying he voted against the measure to ensure the bill would pass. He vowed to support a separate bill legalizing surrogacy for gay couples at a later Knesset session.

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