Police arrest 2 on suspicion they planned to disrupt Jerusalem Pride Parade

No details given on suspects’ identities or what they were plotting; some 2,500 officers deployed to protect estimated 30,000 participants

Participants in Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, August 2, 2018. (Gili Ya'ari/Flash90)
Participants in Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, August 2, 2018. (Gili Ya'ari/Flash90)

The Israel Police said it had detained two people Thursday morning on suspicion that they were planning to disrupt the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade later in the day.

Police offered no details on the identity of the two suspects or their alleged plans.

They were taken for questioning.

“The Israel Police will take determined action against any party that intends to  disrupt or that disrupts the orderly course of the Pride Parade held today in Jerusalem,” police said in a statement.

More than 2,500 officers were set to be deployed as the capital hosts its 18th annual Pride parade. Uniformed and plainclothes policemen will be deployed along and around the parade route in central Jerusalem to protect the expected 30,000 participants, police said Wednesday.

Police will be reinforced by border guards and volunteers to protect the event, which is doubly sensitive and controversial for taking place in the religiously conservative capital.

The preemptive arrest of anti-LGBT activists, as well as an announcement that in recent months police recruited several transgender trainees, marks a shift for law enforcement, who have been widely faulted for failing to adequately protect previous marches and for still not solving a mass shooting at a Tel Aviv gay youth center a decade ago.

Jerusalem Pride Parade marchers carry a poster commemorating 16-year-old Shira Banki, murdered by an ultra-Orthodox extremist in a pride march in the capital in 2015, taken August 2, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Four years ago at the Jerusalem Pride parade, 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox extremist. Schlissel had stabbed and wounded three people in 2005 and police were criticized for allowing him to approach the parade again soon after being released from prison.

On Wednesday, police arrested a right-wing activist, Moshiko Ben Zikri, who they said disguised himself as a member of the LGBT community for two consecutive years to enter the parade, climb on the podium and protest against the event.

Ben Zikri’s lawyer, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, said police were abusing his right to free speech and protest.

“It’s also permissible to protest against the marchers of the Pride Parade, and if they arrest someone as a preventative move — an illegal arrest — only because he planned to shout at those marchers, then something is wrong here, something is not legal. I ask myself, ‘Where are the knights of democracy and freedom of expression?'” Ben Gvir said.

Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the far-right group Lehava, said his group had received a police permit to protest near the march. Gopstein said they planned to use loudspeakers to disrupt those “bringing disaster to Israel.”

Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Lehava chair Benzi Gopstein, all of the Otzma Yehudit party, at an event in Jerusalem marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Gopstein charged, “The purpose of the march is to dissolve the values ​​of the Jewish family and to turn Jerusalem and all of Israel into Sodom.”

He called the march “LGBT terrorism.”

Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation along with LGBT rights and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it as a terrorist group.

On Tuesday, another right-wing group, Hazon (Vision), posted signs around the city protesting same-sex families. The posters countered the LGBT movement with the slogan “Father and Mother = Family. The courage to be normal.” The Jerusalem Municipality ordered that the signs be removed, saying they constituted hate speech.

A sign against same-sex marriage in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. The Hebrew words say “Father and Mother = Family . The courage to be normal.” (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The march this year comes a day after Israel appointed its first openly gay cabinet minister.

At 2:30 p.m., police will close Keren Hayesod Street, Plumer Square (at the intersection of Keren Hayesod and Jabotinsky Street), King George Street, Hillel Street, Menashe Ben Israel Street, Agron Street, and a number of other streets. Roads will be reopened as the march progresses.

Marchers are set to gather at Liberty Bell Park in central Jerusalem between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., after which they will march to Independence Park.

Entry and exit points will be at Liberty Bell Park, Paris Square, King David Street and the intersection of Hahistadrut and Shammai streets.

Last week, the Jerusalem city council approved the annual budget for Open House, an NGO that serves Jerusalem’s LGBT community, after ultra-Orthodox council members left the chamber so as not to vote.

Also last week, Jerusalem’s chief rabbi asked city hall not to hang LGBT flags ahead of the annual pride parade, because they “mar the city.”

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