Anti-war protesters hold 'die-in' on parade route

War looms large over Jerusalem Pride as hostage families lead march

Bereaved son says ‘moral connection’ exists between struggles for LGBTQ equality and return of Hamas-held captives; participants boo far-right police minister checking in on march

Hostage Families Forum organizer Tom Barkai takes the lead at the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade on May 30, 2024, calling for the return of the captives held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Hostage Families Forum organizer Tom Barkai takes the lead at the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade on May 30, 2024, calling for the return of the captives held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The war in Gaza cast a long shadow over the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade as hostage families led swaths of marchers throughout the city on Thursday afternoon, chanting for LGBTQ equality and the return of the 121 Hamas-held captives in Gaza.

This year, the Jerusalem Open House which runs the parade, collaborated with the local branch of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, letting relatives of Hamas-held captives take the spotlight to draw attention to the plight of their loved ones.

“This is not a normal year, and from the despair and pain, one central truth has become clear: the cure for pain, sorrow and loss is community,” Open House CEO Nilli Maderer told the crowd gathered on the lawn of Independence Park after the march reached its destination.

“Just as we have the responsibility to fight for our rights as an LGBTQ+ community, we also have a moral duty to fight for the release of the hostages,” she continued.

Organizers said that 10,000 people attended the Jerusalem march — a major decrease from last year’s 30,000-person turnout.

Some 2,000 police officers and Border Police kept the area under tight security, closing off neighboring roads and allowing entry and exit at only a few spots along the route to Independence Park.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir briefly stopped by the march, as it was about to set out from Liberty Bell Park.

Up until several years ago, Ben Gvir would regularly lead counter-protests against Jerusalem Pride. This was the second year the far-right minister was on site as the minister in charge of the police.

Hostage families and some attendees quickly crowded near the barricade separating the ultranationalist minister from the march, booing him and chanting in support of a hostage deal.

Ben Gvir told reporters that he “came to see that order was being maintained” at the march. “There is freedom of expression. It is permitted to demonstrate,” he said with a wide grin before reentering his car and quickly leaving the scene.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir interrupts the Jerusalem Pride Parade and is greeted by a booing crowd on May 30, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also stopped by the march for a much different reason, telling the crowd in Liberty Bell Park before the march began that he came to remind them that “love will win, hope will win and pride will win.”

“No group has ever attained their rights without a struggle — not women, not Black people, not Jews and not LGBT people,” he continued, going on to compare homophobia to antisemitism.

“We need to fight antisemitism just as we fight the hatred of LGBT people, it’s exactly the same thing… to hate people not because of what they did, but because of who they are,” he said.

Early on in the march, attendees stopped at the spot where 16-year-old Shira Banki was fatally stabbed by a Haredi extremist at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride.

Rabbi Oded Mazor, who heads the Reform Jewish “Kol HaNeshama” community in Jerusalem, led the group in reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish for Banki, as the procession stopped in its place.

A war over values

Jerusalem Pride has always fashioned itself as more of a protest in favor of a space for the LGBTQ community in a city known for its religious ethos.

It contrasts with Tel Aviv Pride, which sports much more of a party-like atmosphere and was canceled this year due to the war and ongoing hostage crisis.

This year’s Jerusalem Pride was further toned down with somber music and constant reminders of the ongoing war. Speakers drew a direct connection between the hostages’ plight and the struggle for LGBTQ rights in Israel.

After the march came to an end in Independence Park, family members of hostages as well as the bereaved fiancé of a slain gay soldier spoke to the large crowd gathered on the grass.

Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of Hamas captive Yoram Metzger, told attendees that she has not seen a “vision of a better future outside of violence” from the government. She called on Israeli leaders to “stop this madness and bring back whoever can be brought home alive as soon as possible.”

Screen capture from video of Ayala Metzger, whose father-in-law Yoram Metzger is held captive in the Gaza Strip, as she joined other families of captive in calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 30, 2024. (Channel12. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“The State of Israel is at war. Not only the physical, cursed, exhausting and unmanaged war but primarily a war over our value system. We have a lot of work to do to find other solutions,” she said.

Nadav Rudaeff, the son of Lior Rudaeff, whose body is held hostage by Hamas in Gaza told the crowd that the struggle for LGBTQ rights and the hostages’ plight are linked by a “human, ethical, and moral connection.”

Omer Ohana, the bereaved fiancé of slain soldier Maj. Sagi Golan who was killed fighting Hamas terrorists on October 7, lamented the treatment he received from the state after his husband-to-be fell in battle in Kibbutz Be’eri. Golan was killed just 13 days before the couple’s wedding.

Ohana was initially not recognized as a bereaved family member after Golan’s death, leading Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to amend the policy to formally include same-sex couples under the laws pertaining to families of fallen IDF soldiers.

Omer Ohana, the fiancé of slain soldier Maj. Sagi Golan, speaks to the crowd at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in Independence Park on May 30, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

“Sagi won’t return, but the hostages must return — now,” said Ohana, describing the three days of “complete darkness” he endured before learning of his partner’s death.

He told the crowd that those days gave him but a taste of “what the hostage families have been feeling 237 days.”

As Ohana spoke, friends and family of Golan, including his mother, brother and other soldiers in his counterterrorism unit wearing t-shirts with his face, stood up near the front of the crowd in remembrance of the fallen soldier.

Die-in against the war

The solemn tone of Thursday’s march was also shared by smaller groups participating in the parade. About halfway through the procession to Independence Park, a group of left-wing marchers laid down on the ground in a brief “die-in” aiming to temporarily stop the march in protest of the ongoing war.

Those on the ground wore all black and held photos to their chests of civilians killed in Gaza by Israeli forces since the outbreak of the war on October 7.

The ongoing war began eight months ago on October 7, when Hamas stormed Israeli communities on the Gaza border killing some 1,200 people and taking 252 hostages.

Left-wing activists at annual Jerusalem Pride Parade stage die-in to protest war in Gaza on May 30, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

“People are being starved, hostages are being held captive and our government is the one that is responsible for stopping all of this. We have to demand rights for everyone from the river to the sea,” shouted Noa Noy, one of the activists who organized the die-in, through a megaphone.

Many marchers passed by the display, with some actively booing and shouting “shame” at the demonstrators to their political left.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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