Jerusalem gay pride march banned as religions show rare unity

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The Independent Online

Uri Lupolianski said he acted "out of concern that it would be provocative and hurt the feelings of the broader public living in and visiting the city and due to concerns about public disorder". In a rare show of unity, Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders had denounced the festival as an abomination. Eitan Mayer, the town hall's director-general, said that the gay pride march had been provocative in the past.

The Open House, a Jerusalem gay and lesbian community centre which organised the parade, announced that it was petitioning the district court, which will hold an urgent hearing on Sunday. The police had already approved the route through the centre of the New City, ending with festivities in Liberty Bell Park, which has a replica of the bell which summoned the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of the American Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

"This is an issue not just of sexual orientation, but of democracy and freedom of speech," Hagai El-Ad, the Open House director, told The Independent. "We are certain that freedom of speech will prevail and that the parade will take place as planned."

About 4,000 marchers have attended three previous parades, which passed with only minor incidents from Jerusalem's large religious community. Mr El-Ad predicted that even more would turn out this year not just to celebrate, but to protest at the ban. "Jerusalem's beauty stems from its diversity," he said. "The mayor's personal beliefs cannot be a basis for trampling on the civil rights of one segment of the population. This sad process begins with the gay and lesbian community, but I don't want to imagine the nightmarish reality that would be created in Jerusalem if a process of this sort was allowed to begin."

Last month the Open House cancelled a 10-day international gay pride festival due to take place in Jerusalem in August because they expected the police to have their hands full with the Gaza disengagement. Anat Hoffman, a civil rights activist and former city councillor, said: "I'm outraged by the ban. The city has no jurisdiction over a potential disturbance of the peace. This is a political decision. The people who have jurisdiction are the police."

Mrs Hoffman, who runs the Reform Jewish movement's Israel Religious Action Centre, said staff intended to join the march regardless. "Who's going to stop us?" she asked.