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100,000 at Tel Aviv Pride Parade, Israel’s largest event since start of COVID

Police arrest dozens of suspected agitators, one of them with taser, nunchucks and other weapons; several government ministers among revelers

Revelers dance on garbage bins as police stand guard at the annual Pride Parade, in Tel Aviv on June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Revelers dance on garbage bins as police stand guard at the annual Pride Parade, in Tel Aviv on June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Police said they arrested roughly 50 suspects while securing Friday’s Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, including several who allegedly sought to harm the tens of thousands of revelers at the mass festival.

The arrests came amid a heavy police presence as the city’s Pride Parade returned after a year’s gap due to the virus. Organizers estimated the turnout at Friday’s event at 100,000, making it Israel’s largest event since the pandemic struck, and potentially one of the largest worldwide.

“About 50 suspects suspected of involvement in various offenses, including disturbing public order and attempted harm to police officers and participants, were detained and taken for questioning at the police station,” police said in a statement.

Among those nabbed was a man from Tel Aviv who police said was planning to attack participants. The man was caught with a taser, nunchucks and other items. Another six people were also arrested on suspicion that they had plotted to attack marchers, including two who were operating drones.

Later police detained a husband and wife from the mostly religious city of Beit Shemesh who attempted to force their way into the parade route and attacked police officers who prevented them from doing so.

Two Palestinians without legal documentation to be in Israel were arrested on the beach in Tel Aviv near the parade route while carrying knives.

Thousands participate in the annual Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, on June 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Pride parades in Israel are held under heavy police presence, particularly since 2015 when an ultra-Orthodox extremist stabbed to death 16-year-old Shira Banki during the parade in Jerusalem.

Some 2,000 officers were dispatched to secure Friday’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade along with 1,000 ushers stationed along the route.

More than a dozen streets in Tel Aviv were shut most of Friday in order to enable the parade route. Police said they used cameras, drones and a helicopter to maintain safety from the air.

Joining the tens of thousands of participants were nearly a dozen members of the coalition, including Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, MKs Meirav Ben-Ari, Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, Eitan Ginzburg, Michal Rozin, Mossi Raz and Yair Golan.

There were no sightings of lawmakers from the opposition, which is made up heavily of right-wing, religious parties. However, in the government also sits the Islamist Ra’am party, which opposes the expansion of LGBT rights.

“Since the first parade in Tel Aviv almost three decades ago, I’ve come every year to march with my community. What a path we have taken – from living in fear and hiding, to the Knesset and the government,” tweeted Horowitz who is openly gay.

“I’m proud to be your voice. Your Minister of Health. I’m committed to you. I love you and I will continue to fight for you. For our sake. Celebrate and stay healthy. Happy Pride!”

“The struggle of the LGBT community for equality goes back many, many years. We have achieved a great deal and today everyone knows that we are all equal,” tweeted Michaeli. “Together with my friends and colleagues from the Labor Party, the Knesset and the government, we will continue to do everything until this becomes official. Equality in full.”

The Tel Aviv Municipality said Friday’s pride was “the largest parade of its kind held worldwide since the outbreak of COVID-19.” This year’s event is the 21st in the city’s history, after last year’s parade was canceled due to the pandemic.

Festivities included six party trucks, dancers, DJs and a party following the parade at Charles Clore Park. There, over a dozen pop-stars performed before the crowd, including Star is Rising singers Eden Alene, Ella Lee and Shafita, along with Eden Hasson and Ninet Tayeb.

Several marchers said they were sad to have missed the parade last year.

“It is not just a celebration, it is also a demonstration for our rights, for our existence, so it feels really good to be here again to march with everyone,” said Noam Klar.

Nina Korolev said it was the first time she attended a Pride parade.

People participate in the annual Pride Parade, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“It is so delicious, it is amazing,” she said. “I’m very proud that I can be here in a free country with free people together. All humans must have the same rights.”

Hours before the parade was slated to begin, Israel reimposed its indoor mask mandate amid a slight spike in new COVID cases. The Health Ministry announcement also recommended masks be worn at crowded outdoor events, specifically mentioning the pride parade and other pride activities.

Horowitz urged caution at the events.

“I’m asking all those celebrants at pride events: celebrate, enjoy, but listen to the instructions, so that we can keep everyone safe and maintain our normal routine,” tweeted Horowitz. “Shabbat Shalom, happy pride and above all — health.”

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the city welcomed the return of the celebration.

People participate at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, on June 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Pride events in Tel Aviv-Yafo are a long-standing tradition, centered on a message of equality, acceptance and human and civil rights,” said Huldai.

“Tel Aviv-Yafo represents a warm home for all communities residing here, and is proud to be a groundbreaking city in its approach to the LGBTQ community and a source of international inspiration. This year, more than ever, we will celebrate together, march together, and fight together for equality.”

President Reuven Rivlin sent his blessings to participants.

“Dear friends in the #LGBTQ+ community. For the last time as president, I send you best wishes for pride month,” Rivlin tweeted. “Our hearts are open to you, even as we continue to fight for the fundamental right for everyone to be who they are. Bless you all!”

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