Ramat Gan’s mayor on Sunday expressed outrage after unknown vandals burned several Gay Pride flags that had been hung up in the city by the municipality ahead of Gay Pride Month.
“The criminals who burned the pride flags will achieve the opposite of their intention,” Carmel Shama-Hacohen said. “For every flag that is vandalized in the city, we will put up 10 more.”
He called the incident “the result of inciting and deceitful rhetoric encouraged by the extreme fringes” and vowed that the city would champion “tolerance, love, openness to all and zero tolerance for hate, thuggery and violence.”
Ramat Gan’s main Gay Pride party will be held near the city’s Stock Exchange this Friday. Ahead of the festivities, around 100 flags were hung up throughout the city’s streets, and rainbow-colored benches were placed in the city center.
Shama-Hacohen said he held a meeting Friday with the city’s religious leaders who objected to the gay pride events, describing the encounter as “not easy” and “unpleasant for me.” However, he said dialog between the sides was important even if it was known in advance that the gaps were too far to be bridged.
“There is no choice but to live with mutual respect, to live and allow others to live,” he said.
The flag burning occurred a week after Jerusalem’s chief rabbi asked that city’s mayor, Moshe Lion, prevent LGBT flags from being put up ahead of the annual pride parade, because they “mar the city.” However, the Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that the flags would be put up like in previous years ahead of the June 6 rally, in accordance with court rulings on the matter.
Israel’s largest gay rights group said 2018 saw a 54 percent jump in the number of reported homophobic incidents over the previous year.
In the worst case of violence surrounding gay pride celebrations in Israel, Shira Banki, 16, was stabbed to death during the 2015 gay pride parade by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox extremist Jew. Six other people were wounded in the attack.
Tel Aviv’s annual Pride Parade will take place Friday, June 14, and is the country’s largest pride event, predicted to attract hundreds of thousands of participants from around the country and the globe. The rally, typically viewed as a celebratory party, is expected to take on a protest-like vibe with organizers seeking to raise awareness of the discrimination suffered by the LGBT community, whose members face extensive hurdles in legally marrying and starting families in Israel.
According to Channel 12, Ramat Gan is one of 12 cities throughout the country that will be marking Gay Pride for the first time this year, with 28 cities in all planning 40 events — an all-time high.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.