With tens of thousands expected to attend Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade, hundreds of police officers were deployed across the city starting Thursday morning to ensure public safety and to close streets as part of a massive law enforcement operation.
At this year’s event, celebrating 25 years since the first parade, the parade and the party traditionally held at the end will be split into two events due to the intensely hot weather.
With a heatwave expected, meteorologists have said temperatures could reach 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday and 32 degrees Celsius (89.5 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday in Tel Aviv.
The march will be held on Thursday afternoon, with participants gathering at 4 p.m. and marching at 5 p.m. along the beachside route from the corner of Shalag Street and Herbert Samuel Boulevard, until the parade ends at Daniel Street at around 8 p.m.
A number of streets in the area were closed from 6 a.m. Police said they will not allow parking along the parade route, have banned all weapons from the area, and have forbidden the flying of drones without prior permission.
The marchers will be accompanied by nine floats.
In a nod to the political situation in the country, the Tel Aviv Municipality has decided that politicians will not be allowed to speak at this year’s march, unlike in previous years, with the exception of the city’s Mayor Ron Huldai, who is running for re-election later this year.
In a statement ahead of the parade, Huldai referred to the government’s planned judicial overhaul, which critics say will leave the rights of minorities unprotected, as well as other legislation mulled by the coalition that could harm the LGBTQ community.
“At this time, when democracy in Israel is at a time of crisis, and we are witnessing measures undermining the foundations of the Declaration of Independence and threatening our common existence, the LGBTQ protest movement is extremely important,” Huldai said, according to the Walla news site.
“I hear the sincere and genuine concerns of the members of the community about the denial of the rights that have been earned through hard work over the years, and the end to the promotion of rights that still have to be fought for,” Huldai said.
“We in Tel Aviv-Yafo will continue to be a beacon for the democratic values that stand at the foundation of our existence, including the continuation of the struggle for full equality of every citizen,” he said.
The traditional party that typically takes place at the end of the parade will be held at Ganei Yehoshua in the north of the city on Friday from 12 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
Some of Israel’s biggest artists, including 2018 Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, Ran Danker, Nunu, Ivri Lider and others are set to perform at the event.
Ahead of the party, police plan to block off the parking lot at Ganei Yehoshua from 10 p.m. on Thursday until 8 p.m. on Friday.
Thirty minutes before the start of the parade Thursday, police arrested a man near the route with an electroshock weapon, brass knuckles, pepper spray and another, unidentified, chemical substance.
Police said the 33-year-old Tel Aviv resident was known to them from previous threats to harm members of the LGBTQ community, and suspect him of planning to attack the marchers.
Also Thursday, a far-right slogan was spray-painted on an LGBTQ center in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market.
Unknown vandals wrote “Kahane was right” in graffiti, a reference to the murdered rabbi Meir Kahane, who advocated expelling all the Arabs from the Holy Land and whose Kach movement was outlawed in the 1990s but continues to have influence.
Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Meital Lehavi urged National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir — himself a longtime Kahane follower who in recent years has sought to distance himself from the rabbi’s racist legacy — to “condemn the ugly graffiti on the building of the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBT Community Center on the morning of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade.”
Earlier, police called on the public to report any incidents of violence or hatred against the LGBTQ community in the lead-up to the parade.
“Israel Police practices zero tolerance to any incident of violence or incitement to violence and will act to take care of these phenomena,” the police said.
“Our goal needs to be clear to every police officer and commander — that every participant in the parade tomorrow returns home safely, and with a smile,” said Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, after police completed their preparation for the events.
“There is a scope of challenges — nationalistic, LGBTQ-phobic, criminal, traffic and security. Every commander here around the table and their officers are the keys to success,” he said.
Over 170,000 people participated in last year’s parade, which marched down Rokach Boulevard in the north of the city rather than along the traditional route in central Tel Aviv. The controversial change to the route was due to the extensive construction work across the city as part of the new light rail system.
An estimated 30,000 people marched in the Jerusalem Pride Parade last week under tight security. The event passed smoothly without any security incidents.
The Jerusalem Open House which organizes the event said that the number of participants was a record high since the parade in 2016, a year after 16-year-old Shira Banki was murdered in a knife attack during the event by an ultra-Orthodox extremist.