Under arches of rainbow balloons and flags, more than 200,000 people thronged through the streets of Tel Aviv Friday for the annual Gay Pride Parade.
Hundreds of police officers and volunteers were dispatched to help secure the march. Cars were banned from parking along the route of the parade, and traffic was redirected.
Knesset security also beefed up protection for Likud MK Amir Ohana, an openly gay member of Israel’s parliament, following threats to harm him during the event.
Sources close to Ohana blamed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) community, telling Army Radio that it was unfortunate that such an open and accepting community would do to “the only gay MK in the coalition just because he’s right wing.”
Fellow Likud politician Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev told participants she “loves” the gay community and was happy to see so many participating in the event. She said the government “needs to do more for you because you deserve it like everyone else.”
“Everyone should be able to live as they want to live,” said 80-year-old Miriam Yitzhaki, a veteran resident of Tel Aviv who sat watching the colorful parade march down Bograshav Street, including a man wearing nothing but a speedo gyrating on top of an electricity box. “It started out as just a thing for the gays, but now you can see so many groups, including political groups like Meretz and Peace Now, that’s nice to see people getting involved.”
Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon called on the government to take greater action for the LGBTQ community, criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “pinkwashing” Israel’s policies.
“This government needs to provide the gay community with what it deserves — equal rights under the law, funding and recognition,” Galon said.
According to a Channel 2 report on Thursday, police warned right-wing extremists not to come near the Tel Aviv celebration.
On Wednesday police requested restraining orders to keep a group of right-wing extremists away from the event, but judges rejected the move, saying there was not enough evidence to support it.
Last year during the Jerusalem pride parade radical ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel stabbed several participants, killing 16-year-old Shira Banki and injuring several others. Friday’s parade included a minute’s silence in Banki’s memory.
More than 180,000 people, including 30,000 tourists, were expected at the annual event, according to the Foreign Ministry, a number surpassed by midday estimates. Among the participants were male and female reservists from the Israeli army’s artillery regiment, marching in support of battalion colleagues from LGBT community, Ynet reported.
The theme of this year’s parade is “Women for a Change.” Last year the theme honored transgender people.
“It’s really nice that they decided to make it about women, because sometimes gay pride events can be really male dominated,” said Miriam Fine, a 25-year-old lawyer from London who came with a group of five friends especially for the week’s events.
“It’s the most fun in the world to come to this, and to see this in the Middle East is really cool,” she said. This is the first time the group came to Israel during Gay Pride week.
Eighteen-year-old Lien Ben Haim came with a group of friends from a high school in Bat Yam. “My friends are gay, so we said, why not? We’re here to support them,” she said.
With the bass line thumping from Europop and “Ya Habibi Tel Aviv,” marchers danced down the streets as neighbors threw buckets of water from their balconies. The march started at the Gan Meir Park and ends with a party at Charles Clore Park in South Tel Aviv, after moseying down the Tayelet with dozens of sponsored floats.
A number of organizations in the LGBTQ community joined the march, including Hoshen, which brings LGBT adults to Israeli high schools to talk about their life stories. Other marching organizations included gay sports teams, Beit Meir, the gay community center in Tel Aviv, and political parties Meretz, Labor and Likud.
Rotem Nimkovsky, 40, has been marching as a member of the Likud Pride group since they founded in 2011. “When I went to political conventions and came out of the closet to tell people that I am gay, they right away sent me to Meretz,” said Nimkovsky. “I said, no, I don’t identify with Meretz. I’ve been right-wing my whole life.”
“There is no connection between political opinions and sexual orientation,” Nimkovsky continued. “We are everywhere, and it doesn’t matter your political opinion, LGBT rights are for everyone.”