JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of people marched through the streets of Jerusalem on Thursday in the city’s annual gay pride parade, a festival that exposes deep divisions between Israel’s secular and Jewish ultra-Orthodox camps.
Some 10,000 revelers waving rainbow flags joined the carnival-like procession, as over 2,500 police officers in plain clothes, in uniform and on horseback patrolled the crowd.
“Homosexuals, lesbians, transgenders. Jerusalem is mine too,” marchers chanted.
The gay community’s visibility in conservative Jerusalem tends to draw vocal protest from members of the city’s substantial Orthodox population. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews reject the public display of homosexuality as an “abomination” that desecrates the biblical city and flouts Jewish law.
Police said they arrested 52 suspects who planned to disrupt the event, including a man carrying a knife near the parade route. A smattering of counter-protesters from an ultranationalist party jeered through megaphones and carried signs saying “Jerusalem is not Sodom” and “Keep the Holy Land holy.” Police confined their demonstration to a penned-off park far from the procession.
Ahead of the event, the city government said it had taken down a series of homophobic banners that had recently appeared on Jerusalem billboards.
The parade passed peacefully this year, but has ended violently before: In 2015, an ultra-Orthodox extremist stabbed a 16-year-old girl to death and wounded several others. The assailant struck shortly after completing a 10-year prison sentence for stabbing participants at the 2005 march.
Jerusalem’s tense march contrasts with the more free-wheeling one staged every year in Tel Aviv, a secular coastal city celebrated for its gay-friendly lifestyle, set to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists for the occasion next week.
Support for gay rights is increasingly widespread in Israel, where gay people serve openly in the military and parliament. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Amir Ohana, the country’s first openly gay cabinet minister, from his right-wing Likud party. Ohana stopped by the parade and was met with boos from the liberal crowd.
Yet Israel’s LGBT community hasn’t attained equality. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which wield significant influence in Netanyahu’s right-wing government, have long resisted legislation granting gay couples equal marriage and parental rights.
Palestinians also have accused Israel of using gay rights to deflect attention from abuses of Palestinians — a policy they describe as “pinkwashing.”
Wrapped in a string of rainbow flags, Meitav Aaron, an American gay student who grew up religious, said he wore a Jewish skullcap to the parade “to show that there are religious Jews who are also believing in this cause … that Judaism means as much to me as the Orthodox guy that might be protesting this entire event.”