November 9, 2006
By Harvey Morris in Jerusalem
Thousands of police officers are due to deploy in Jerusalem on Friday to protect a Gay Pride parade after a week of riots and protests by the city’s ultra-Orthodox community failed to persuade the authorities to cancel the event.
Organisers have agreed to change the route of the parade to avoid the centre of the city. However, the concession did not sway opponents of the march who, for a sixth night running, blocked streets in religious districts, stoned police and planted a fake bomb.
A number of people, including police officers, have been injured and dozens of protesters have been arrested.
The ultra-Orthodox community regards homosexuality as an abomination and sees the annual parade as a desecration of the holy city. An ultra-Orthodox man stabbed three participants at last year’s march.
This year’s unprecedented protests, however, have highlighted wider divisions in Israeli society stirred up by last year’s evacuation of settlers from Gaza and this year’s Lebanon war.
The protesters have been doubly offended by the timing of this year’s event. Postponed because of the Lebanon conflict, its rescheduling coincides with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, in which Jews were systematically attacked by Nazi gangs in 1938 Germany.
While secular leaders support the gay community’s democratic right to hold the march, nationalist settlers who failed to prevent the Gaza withdrawal have backed ultra-Orthodox dem-ands that the event be banned.
Menachem Mazuz, attorney-general, ruled this week that the re-routed parade should go ahead despite fears among police that it could lead to violence.
In a dispute that appears to have engaged every sector of Israeli society, he was denounced by, among others, Arcadi Gaydamak, the billionaire businessman. However, leftwing politicians defended his decision, while Yael Gelman, the mayor of the coastal townof Herzliya, called on herfellow mayors from around the country to show solidarity by attending Friday’s march.
A rabbinical court was considering placing a pulsa denura – popularly regarded as a death curse – on parade participants, the police and Mr Mazuz. Similar curses have in the past been placed on Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1994, and Ariel Sharon, the prime minister who ordered the Gaza withdrawal.
Less demonstrative opposition to the parade has also been expressed by Muslim leaders and some Christian groups.
The claim of one leading rabbi that “obscenity and promiscuity in the Holy Land” was to blame for Israel’s failings in the war against Hizbollah echoed claims by rightwing commentators at the height of the Lebanon conflict thatthe moral fibre of Zionism had been undermined by a culture of hedonism.
* Five Palestinians were killed in Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip yesterday, hours after the army said it had ended a six-day offensive against the town of Beit Hanoun in which more than 50 Palestinians were killed.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006