Police in Jerusalem are bracing for violence at Thursday’s Jerusalem Pride Parade, amid calls by extremists to disrupt what is expected to be the city’s largest-ever LGBT march.
Some 2,500 police officers, border police and other security forces will secure the annual event that is expected to draw a record 30,000 participants. The event is due to take place against a background of widespread anger over a recent law that bars gay men from surrogacy parenthood rights.
A number of right-wing extremists and anti-LGBT activists told Hebrew-language media outlets they were summoned to police stations in recent days where they were warned not to disrupt the march or to stay away from the city entirely. Dozens of extremists have reportedly been given similar warnings.
Two members of the ultra-nationalist Lehava group who were convicted of setting fire to a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem in 2014 were among those ordered by police to keep away from downtown Jerusalem on Thursday.
Last year, around 22,000 people took part in the parade according to police estimates, under the watchful eye of 1,000 police officers. 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.
Police have granted permission for two counter demonstrations to be held during Thursday’s march. Lehava will hold a protest near the start of the march route near Liberty Bell Park, while Orthodox group Liba will demonstrate against the event at the entrance to Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, Lehava founder Bentzi Gopstein branded members of the LGBT community “terrorists” in an online video, and urged members of his extremist group to attend the protest that will be held under the banner “Jerusalem is not Sodom.”
Last week, over 200 national religious rabbis signed a statement initiated by Liba decrying the pride event and recent moves by LGBT groups seeking to overturn the surrogacy law passed by the Knesset earlier in July.
The statement, endorsed by a number of high-profile rabbis, said the “healthy majority in the State of Israel is shocked by the provocations and the loss of the way of the abomination organizations.” They added that “the aggressive terrorism, accompanied by media brainwashing to turn the perverts into heroes will not work.”
The rabbis also declared support for Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who drew criticism earlier this month for claiming that children with gay parents were exposed to “very strange and unnatural lives.”
The march is set to take place days after some 100,000 people packed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the exclusion of single men from the surrogacy law, which has drawn accusations of LGBT discrimination in the Jewish state.
Nation-wide 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.