The passionate controversy over the gay pride parade planned for Jerusalem earlier this month brought to a head the worst aspects of life in Israel. The storm can be viewed as a microcosm of the decadent trends that have steadily infiltrated our society, dramatically highlighting the ability of minority groups to polarize and hijack the national agenda.
The truth is that the vast majority of Jerusalemites — secular as well as religious — were opposed to holding a gay parade in their city. Had their views been taken into account, the ugly confrontation would have been stillborn.
Israel’s aggressively interventionist Supreme Court, which denies Jews the right to pray on the Temple Mount on the grounds that it infringes Muslim sensitivities, resolved that prohibiting such a parade represented a denial of freedom of expression. Despite being aware that last year three gay marchers were stabbed by hostile observers during a previous parade, the court merely added the caveat that the parade could be cancelled if it represented a threat to public order.
Not surprisingly, the police unequivocally recommended that the parade be cancelled, reaffirming that there was indeed a threat to public order and warning that virtually the entire regional police force — more than 12,000 officers — would have to be diverted to prevent violence from erupting.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who has come under considerable criticism for his alleged predilection of enabling political considerations to influence his decisions, rejected the police recommendation. Contrary to media expectations and even surprising the parade organizers, Mazuz insisted that freedom of expression was at stake and that the march would proceed, albeit with some adjustment in routing.
Only at the last minute, however, was the parade radically confined because of a security threat that arose in response to the killing of the civilians in Gaza. Even so, more than 3,000 policemen were required to protect 3,000 gays and lesbians and their supporters who rallied at Hebrew University’s stadium in Givat Ram. The underlying tragedy is that all this took place during a period of grave concern over the very future of the nation, when all responsible parties should have been setting aside their prejudices and concentrating on the promotion of national unity.
Jerusalem is a unique city, and the vast majority of the dominant Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, as well as Christians, do not accept homosexuality and lesbianism as equally legitimate alternative lifestyles. Their feelings are based on religious grounds, and cannot simply be dismissed.
Gay parades are regular events in some cities. But it was inevitable that emotions would become inflamed when gays targeted Jerusalem as an arena to publicly promote their agenda. Jerusalem is not San Francisco, and just as it would be inconceivable for gay activists to parade at the Vatican, such a march in Jerusalem should also have been regarded as provocative.
Nobody who believes in democracy can dispute the right of gays to promote their civil rights. Indeed, bearing in mind that it was only in the late 1980s that the Knesset formally repealed the laws designating homosexuality as a criminal offense, the fact that the law now bans discrimination against same sex couples demonstrates the extent of the gay movement’s political achievement.
But there are limits to what the general community should be expected to accept. Holding a triumphant gay parade in Jerusalem was deliberately confrontationist. The organizers knew it, but believed that such a parade, accompanied by militant opposition from Haredim, would provide them with the publicity they craved. In reality, they also lost out because by and large, most Israelis were disgusted by the whole affair.
The matter also widened beyond a controversy over a gay parade. It was hijacked by a small circle of secular activists as a vehicle to humiliate and discredit the religious. The vast majority of Orthodox opponents to the parade protested within the framework of the law.
Only a small minority of Haredim from the extremist Eda Haredit sect engaged in the violence, but they succeeded in creating the impression that virtually all of Jerusalem’s Orthodox community was party to the hooliganism and provided the Israeli public with yet another revolting anti-Orthodox hate fest. The outrageous behavior by the tire-burning Haredi zealots succeeded in making secular anti-Orthodox agitators the sole beneficiaries from the civil disorder by discrediting all Orthodox Jerusalemites as lawbreakers and thugs.
It was yet another example of the failure of Israeli leaders to prevent a needless schism. It was also due to the connivance and collaboration of the Supreme Court and attorney general who, instead of avoiding yet another painful and damaging confrontation, positively encouraged through their decisions the parade to proceed. The principal losers in this furor were the people of Israel. The ideals — of tolerance, of dialogue, of the efforts to restore harmony in a nation shattered by political corruption, a failed war and a lack of confidence in its elected leaders — simply slid one further step backwards.
Isi Leibler is chairman of the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.