With that in mind I decided to take up all that is going on around the upcoming annual gay pride march in Jerusalem.
Not surprisingly, I suppose, violence broke out early this week when several hundred ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocked the Sanhedria junction in Jerusalem after a protest rally against this week's Gay Pride march. I mean who could be surprised when at the rally itself the head of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic court, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, said the participants in the gay pride events scheduled for Thursday, as well as the police who secured them, would be "cursed."
It is to be noted that while a few thousand kooks showed up for the rally that was only maybe 5% of what had been expected. It seems to be that Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community is reluctant to participate in the protests that the fundamentalist activists have been staging throughout the previous week.
Haaretz says the Edah Haredit has been responsible for nightly demonstrations in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, including the mass rally at Bar-Ilan Street. The organization consists of several ultra-Orthodox and anti-Zionist groups including Satmar, Toldos Aharon and Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok hasidim and Perushim. (I know who these guys are, but you may not. If you are interested do a google search, okay.)
Unlike the majority of the ultra-Orthodox community, the followers of the Edah Haredit boycotted the general elections for the Knesset, and are opposed to any sign of modernity. In less than 12 months, the group has rallied its supporters twice to protest against gay and lesbian events.
In fact, haredi rabbis in Jerusalem yesterday published an official statement in United Torah Judaism's newspaper Yated Ne'eman calling on the strictly-Orthodox public not to hold demonstrations against the parade.
But don't think for a minute this was a sign of tolerance.
In their statement, the rabbis wrote that yeshiva students should not be out on the streets protesting, but rather reciting prayers against the "terrible abomination." Yeshiva heads were responsible for seeing their students refrain from actively protesting, they added.
Dana Olmert, the lesbian daughter of the Prime Minister, insists people should worry more about basic rights, rather than harping on Jerusalem’s holiness. She could care less what the super Orthodox nut cases think.
"The question of ‘Why in Jerusalem?’ is like asking why we need to give people voting rights,” she said in an interview with Army Radio. “The Gay Pride Parade is a political event. It’s an expression of political activism - you don’t ask permission to do it."
She is right, of course.
"People tell us that we don't need an event in Jerusalem, that we could join the march in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem it's more an issue of equal rights," says Judy Enteen, whose son is gay. "I strongly believe that this is an issue of human rights and the right for a person to exist as who he/she is. Being gay is not a choice; seven-10 percent of all societies are gay."
"The parade is an opportunity for people to get together and show their support and love for one another," agreed Norman Enteen, 66. "It is also an expression of the kind of society that I want to live in, where the individual's freedom of speech and expression is allowed."
Dutch-born Chana Arnon, who founded an organization which provides support for parents and friends of lesbians and gays 10 years ago, told the Jerusalem Post, "For most people the initial news that the child they have lived with all these years has a different sexual orientation is very often a real shock.When my own son - who is now 43 - told us 20 years ago that he was gay, I was completely surprised. As a parent, it is just not something you expect to hear."
Arnon said that a big problem facing the Jerusalem gay and lesbian community was the challenge in reaching the people who need help.
"Parents in the haredi or Arab communities have a very hard time accepting that a child is gay and seeking help," she said. "But this is a natural phenomenon and happens across the board in every community."
As for Thursday's March for Pride and Tolerance, Arnon said that exactly because of the lack of acceptance by many segments of Jerusalem's population, the event was vital in showing everyone "there are gays in Jerusalem."
"We have a lot of haredi youth connected to the center," she said. "Being gay is a very strong feeling and is not just something that they can't get over. The fact that no one accepts them causes suicide and from that point alone it is important to have a parade and show them they are not alone."
Someone needs to tell the aging haredi Rabbis.
But then again, why bother, they wouldn't care, unless, perhaps, the message was delivered straight from God on Mount Sanai. And that ain't happening anytime soon.
The following is from the Jerusalem Post.
J'lem police brace for parade violence
In a renewed showdown, Jerusalem police are bracing for violence on Thursday over a controversial gay parade through the streets of the city.
The event, which is slated to take place in central Jerusalem on Thursday evening, was approved by police over the vehement opposition of the haredi and religious public who view such a parade as a loathsome abomination and an anathema to core Biblical values.
The annual march, which is being organized by Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center at a cost of NIS 500,000, is slated to run from the city's central King David Street to the nearby Liberty Bell Park.
'Right to parade is like right to vote'
Police said that 7,500 police would be out in force to safeguard the early evening event, which several thousand participants are expected to attend. A haredi counter-protest will take place concurrently in downtown Jerusalem, police said.
The prerogative for issuing permits for public events rests with police, who could have banned the event - or restricted it as they did last year - due to a concern for public safety. After giving their final approval last week, police said they could still reconsider their authorization of the event based on the situation on the ground. Such a move was never required - in part because of the backing the event has from the High Court of Justice.
Executive Director of Jerusalem's Gay and Lesbian Center, Noa Stattath, had warned that the organization would petition Israel's highest court if police nixed the group's proposed parade route.
Last year's parade through the streets of Jerusalem was cancelled following weeks of violent haredi protests, and confined to an enclosed sports stadium to avoid clashes.
The annual local parade, which draws several thousand participants every year, has been the source of repeated debate, with many religious city council members and a not insignificant number of the city's largely traditionalresidents considering such an event inappropriate for a "holy" city. Supporters of the parade counter that freedom of speech enables them to hold the event in Jerusalem, as a symbol of tolerance and pluralism, even if theirs is the view of the minority of residents in the city.
In the week since the police gave the go-ahead for the event, low-level clashes between haredi youths and police have been a nightly occurrence, with haredim pelting police with stones, burning garbage cans and blocking traffic in protest. Nearly 100 people have been arrested over the last week in such protests.
But a major demonstration organized by the extremist Eda Haredit sect against the parade attracted only 10,000 people on Sunday, one-tenth of the number organizers had hoped for, in a sign of the divisions within the haredi community over how to deal with the event.
Meanwhile, 10 far-right activists came to the site of the planned march on Wednesday with two horses in a move meant to symbolize the "bestial march." Also, a 44-year-old haredi man was arrested Wednesday morning while trying to vandalize a gay bar in the city, police said.
The suspect, who was released on bail, said he wanted to blot out an advertisement for the parade on the outside of the city's Shushan Bar.
Meanwhile, a suspicious bag was discovered on a major city street that contained a fake bomb and a note that read: "If you don't cancel the march, this will be a real bomb," Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.