Hundreds of protesters gathered Thursday outside the Beersheba city council building to protest the cancellation of the city’s first-ever Gay Pride parade.
Organizers had canceled the event Wednesday night to protest a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed police to bar participants from marching through the city’s main thoroughfare due to what police called “real concern” for participants’ safety in the face of threats.
Police officials had urged the court to uphold their decision for an alternate route, saying they could not ensure the safety of all parade participants in the open thoroughfare.
Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party, joined the protesters. “The pride community has suffered a stinging blow,” she said. “The combined forces of the police and the [chief] rabbi of the city of Beersheba” — who had criticized the march — “have delivered a brutal blow to freedom of expression and the right to protest, which are basic civil rights.”
Waving flags and holding black balloons, protesters chanted slogans including “The pink south demand money and respect” and “Homophobia rules while the council remain silent.”
Jonathan, an IDF reservist at the protest, told the Haaretz daily that he wore his uniform to the demonstration in protest at the army’s ban on uniformed soldiers attending the parade. “I protect society when I do reserve duty. I expect the rule of law to protect me just as much.”
The decision to ban the parade from the main streets came a year after teen Shira Banki was killed and five more people injured by a Jewish religious extremist armed with a knife at a pride parade in central Jerusalem.
The petition asking the High Court to force police to allow the original parade route was filed earlier this week by the Beersheba Pride House and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who objected to the local LGBT community being relegated to side streets.
After the petition was filed, Beersheba police acknowledged its decision was also made to avoid “offending religious sentiments” in the area, and to prevent traffic disruptions that could delay vehicular access to the nearby Soroka Medical Center, the largest hospital in the country’s south.
The pride parade has sparked controversy in the southern metropolis in recent weeks as organizers fought with police, city council members and the municipality to obtain permits to hold the event.
In previous years, Beersheba’s pride events have been smaller, usually taking place at the city’s youth center. This year would have marked its first-ever, full-fledged public parade.
The municipality, which sponsored pride events at the youth center, refused to sponsor the city-wide parade. City officials last week said the decision was made because activists were planning to protest what they considered the city’s own limited funding for LGBT programs.
Religious members of the council threatened to resign from the city’s governing coalition unless the route was changed. They claimed that while they were not opposed to pride marches in theory, they objected to the organizers’ proposed route because it passed by synagogues.