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Riots Rock Jerusalem Before Gay Pride Parade

Police in Israel’s capital were bracing this week for a weekend of intense violence as gay rights activists prepared to stage a gay pride parade through the city and ultra-Orthodox Jews vowed not to let them.

Nearly two weeks of rioting have rocked the city’s Orthodox neighborhoods, several times spilling over into the city center, in protest of the planned gay pride march. Crowds of ultra-Orthodox youths, at times numbering in the thousands, have showered police and motorists with stones and have set trash cans on fire. Dozens of police have been injured, and at least 60 protesters have been arrested. Violent protests were also reported in Hadera, Bet Shemesh and the Tel Aviv suburb of B’nei Brak, where protesters burned tires and blocked a main highway.

The Supreme Court was to meet Wednesday to consider appeals by several Orthodox groups to forbid the march. Israel’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, refused last weekend to ban the march, rejecting an appeal by Jerusalem police who said they could not guarantee the marchers’ safety. “Giving in to threats is a threat to democracy, and therefore it is unthinkable not to hold the parade,” Mazuz said. The Supreme Court issued an order last spring permitting the parade, but it was postponed after war broke out in Lebanon.

Israel’s chief rabbinate issued a statement Monday calling Israel’s homosexuals the “lowest of people,” and urging the public to assemble for a countrywide prayer rally as gay rights marchers gathered in Jerusalem.

“We were horrified to hear of the threatening plot that an abominated minority of our brothers is planning, convening to carry out abominations that make them the lowest of people,” the country’s two chief rabbis wrote in a statement. “Everyone from toddlers to the elderly will join in the streets and bitterly protest this awful abomination that is desecrating Israel’s name throughout the nations. Of course they will do this in the appropriate way, without violence or harm to property.”

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar rejected claims by liberal journalists and lawmakers that the rabbis’ message supports and even encourages the violent atmosphere permeating ultra-Orthodox streets in Jerusalem in recent days. On Monday, Amar told Army Radio that the gay pride parade is a criminal act and “not an ordinary crime, but a very severe outburst.”

National Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said that 12,000 police, including most of the Border Patrol troops stationed in the West Bank, would be deployed Friday to secure the parade in Jerusalem. Most of the police were to be deployed across Jerusalem, with the rest stationed at major junctions throughout the country to prevent protesters from burning tires and blocking roads.

Gay activists connected to Open House, the parade’s sponsor, were negotiating this week with police over an alternate route that police said was easier to secure. At the same time, there was debate within the gay community over the wisdom of proceeding with the parade in the face of threatened violence. Jerusalem city council member Sa’ar Netanel and Itay Pinkas, the Tel Aviv mayor’s adviser on gay affairs, said they would consider calling off the parade if ultra-Orthodox parties would agree to abstain in Knesset votes on a bill on common-law marriage.

“The parade is a means and not an end,” Pinkas said.

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