The Israel Police force was on high alert on Thursday ahead of the Jerusalem Pride Parade set for the afternoon, amid threats of violence by the far-right group Lehava, members of which have been posting threatening messages against pro-LGBTQ marchers in the capital.
Jerusalem’s Pride event was slated to begin at 3 p.m., the march was scheduled to set out at 5 p.m., and a protest against the march was set to be held at 3:30 p.m. Many central streets in Jerusalem will be closed to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, police said, vowing to prevent any kind of violence, public disturbances or infringements against the parade.
The parade kicks off a series of national events marking LGBTQ Pride Month.
Some 2,000 cops — some of them undercover — are expected to be deployed along the march’s route and around it, police said in a statement Monday. Some officers were to be deployed in the adjacent streets to secure the march and its surrounding areas, where anti-LGBTQ demonstrators from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava were expected to hold a protest.
Police announced Thursday morning that they had arrested three individuals for making threats to the parade — two men, one in his 40s and one in his 60s, on Thursday, and a man from Ramle on Wednesday.
Lehava is led by veteran far-right activist Bentzi Gopstein, a close political ally of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and once a candidate on the electoral slate of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party. Lehava received approval from the police to hold the counter-protest at Bloomfield Garden, close to where the Pride Parade was set to be held at the same time.
A Telegram group affiliated with the organization, called “Jews don’t stay silent,” has been featuring inciting messages and threats against the LGBTQ community in recent days, according to information by the FakeReporter social media watchdog reported earlier this week by Channel 12 news.
One group member posted a banner for a counter-protest against the Parade, adding: “Deadly Thursday in Jerusalem.”
Some of the other messages said: “May all the marchers die from machine gun fire,” “I don’t understand why not to burn all the gentiles coming to defile the land,” and “Maybe Iran’s bomb will restore order here.”
On Wednesday, the watchdog said the incitement had continued during the week amid alleged police inaction, with other members posting messages including: “If someone who defines themselves as gay comes close, they will feel pain like they have never experienced,” and “This will deteriorate until we put a stop to it.”
Posters who have been advocating the counter-protest are referring to the Pride Parade as the “Abomination Parade.”
On Wednesday evening, the Kan public broadcaster cited an unnamed senior police official expressing concern over what he said was a rise in online remarks against the LGBTQ community.
On Wednesday night, Hebrew media reported that some Jerusalem residents had received text messages to their phones that appeared to have been sent by a number affiliated with the Jerusalem Municipality, urging them to protest against the Pride Parade.
“Jerusalem is not Sodom. Religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox [people]– everyone is coming tomorrow to protest against the ‘abomination parade’ at 15:45 near the Begin Center,” read the messages, which also noted that the counter-protest was approved by the police.
The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that the text messages were not sent on its behalf and promised to “make an official appeal to the Communications Ministry and the service provider to investigate and eradicate this phenomenon” of misinformation.
Police said Wednesday that they completed security preparations for the Pride event and warned that “anyone who tries to disrupt the course of the pride parade will be dealt with with all severity.”
Unlike its Tel Aviv counterpart, the Jerusalem Pride Parade is the subject of heavy security and restrictions after an ultra-Orthodox extremist, Yishai Schlissel, stabbed teenage marcher Shira Banki to death at the parade in 2015. Schlissel carried out the attack just a few weeks after he was released from prison after serving 10 years for stabbing and injuring marchers at the 2005 parade. He is currently serving life in prison.
Ben Gvir, currently the national security minister, represented Schlissel’s brother, Michael, after the latter was arrested on suspicion of planning to carry out an attack in 2016.
Up until 2019, Ben Gvir attended counter-protests led by religious extremists against the Jerusalem Pride Parade.
The main organizer of the event, the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, has reported numerous threats to police in recent weeks.
According to the Open House, one of the threats it received read: “I hope that Yishai Schlissel will be there to finish the job he started… how can you celebrate this mental illness.”
Similar threats were made ahead of last year’s parade, and a suspect was arrested in advance of the event. About 10 people were arrested throughout that day on suspicion of planning to attack marchers.
Earlier this week, the Jerusalem Open House appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent Ben Gvir from being involved in security for the march, citing concerns the far-right lawmaker who oversees police may “improperly” interfere in the event.
“The minister was part of the [homophobic] ‘Beast Parades,’ petitioned the courts several times to cancel the parade, decisively spoke out against it, and represented the family member of the murderer Yishai Schlissel,” their letter to Netanyahu read.
They pleaded with the prime minister to prevent Ben Gvir from visiting the police command center during the parade and personally overseeing the event.
The far-right minister reportedly rebuffed the effort, saying he would hold situational assessments ahead of the march and be present at the police’s command center at the event.
“Even though I’m not enthusiastic about the existence of the parade, I don’t want a single hair on the head of the marchers to be hurt, and I will do everything to get comprehensive security,” Ben Gvir told associates, according to Channels 12 and 13.