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Threats of
violence could stop Jerusalem gay pride parade

Threats of
violence could stop Jerusalem gay pride parade


A week before a planned gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Orthodox Jews are warning of violence, and a government minister said the march might have to be scrapped.

A week before a planned gay pride parade in Jerusalem, the city's Orthodox Jews are warning of possible violence, and a government minister said the march might have to be scrapped to keep the peace in the holy city. Gay rights activists fear the parade could end like it did last year--with three marchers stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox protester--and they accuse opponents of assaulting democratic rights.

But many devout Jews feel the parade has no place in Jerusalem, and they want it stopped. ''This march is a ruthless assault on traditional Jewish values and the sanctity of Jerusalem,'' said Mina Fenton, an Orthodox member of Jerusalem's city council who has led the fight against the parade.

More than 100,000 people will attend a counterdemonstration on the day of the march should it be allowed to go ahead, she said, and violence is a possibility. ''When you throw a match, you have to expect a fire,'' Fenton said.

Notice boards in Jerusalem have been plastered with posters condemning the event, and prominent rabbis have issued calls to stop it. Shlomo Amar, one of Israel's two chief rabbis, wrote that by ignoring religious laws prohibiting homosexuality, the march ''threatens the existence of the people of Israel in its land'' and is more destructive than ''Nebuchadnezzar and Titus,'' referring to two historical figures who sacked Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters have already rioted in anticipation of the march. In one disturbance Wednesday, three policemen were hurt by stones, and 20 protesters were arrested.

Elena Canetti, a parade organizer who heads Jerusalem's main gay rights group, Jerusalem Open House, worried about the growing friction. ''Their incitement might end in tragedy,'' she said.

Police are moving ahead with preparations for the march, which will require thousands of police to provide security, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. But the police have yet to issue a permit. Avi Dichter, the cabinet minister in charge of the police, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that no permit would be issued if securing the march required so many officers that police would be forced to abandon other crucial duties. ''If police believe that they cannot guarantee public safety, the march will not go ahead,'' Dichter said.

Gay activists had originally planned to hold an international gay pride parade in Jerusalem this summer but called it off because of the war in Lebanon. They decided instead to hold a local march November 10. The parade in Jerusalem is expected to differ from such events elsewhere in the world--even those held in the nearby, more permissive city of Tel Aviv--where drag shows and barely clothed marchers on floats are the norm. The Jerusalem parades tend to be more sedate, with a few thousand marchers.

This has not helped calm the opposition, which includes hard-liners flown in from abroad. One of them is Yehuda Levin, a rabbi from New York City who represents an umbrella organization of ultra-Orthodox clerics and who arrived to fight against the parade. ''No one would dream of having this march in Vatican City,'' he said.

Levin declined to condemn potential violence against marchers. ''If you came into my house and attacked my wife and daughters and asked me if I intended to obey the law, you know what the answer would be,'' Levin said.

Despite the anger sparked by the march, organizers are refusing to back down. One floor above the office of march opponent Mina Fenton in Jerusalem's City Hall is the office of Saar Nathaniel, a gay city council member. The city's gays will push ahead, Nathaniel said, because backing down would set a dangerous precedent for Israel's democracy, proving that violence trumps freedom of speech. ''We are putting a mirror in front of Israeli society and the people of Jerusalem and asking a simple question: Do you want to live in Tehran?'' Nathaniel said. (AP)

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