Comment: Is a gay pride rally as good as a march?

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Israeli gay campaigner, Yoav Sivan, reflects on yet another cancelled gay pride march.

Once again external political circumstances shape the agenda of the LGBT community in Israel, or any internal Israeli agenda for that matter.

Last year the World Pride was put off because of the Pullout plan, last August WorldPride was a low-key event due to the war; today after the horrible killing of Palestinians in Bet Hanoun, and threat of revenge that quickly followed suit, the event will take the shape of a demonstration in the compound of a Hebrew University stadium in Jerusalem.

It will not be the parade as the Jerusalem Open House, which organised the event had hoped.

But does a protest without marching suffice to deliver the message, or does it put us, LGBT people in Israel, back into the closet, albeit a huge one in the shape of stadium? And what is the message left off after weeks of legal and political struggles to carry out the parade?

By now, the parade is not anymore a march of the LGBT community alone. It has become, or better yet gays have become, the forerunners of the campaign for human rights in Israel and a symbol for the constructed tensions between the religious institution and the state.

The fact that the event will take place in close compound is disappointing, but we should not read too much into it. The LGBT community and the liberal left will never be able to pay back the ultra-orthodox Jewish community eye for an eye.

Their call for violence against the participants and the police alike, and the already out of hand protests against the parade should not be answered in the same token from our side.

Some religious leaders acknowledge by now their tactic mistake: they have burnt in the public eye the image of irresponsibility and readiness to use power. This image will not be easily removed, at least partly, because this image is genuine.

The way usual smooth talker Minister Eli Ishai from Shas talks about gays is plainly inconceivable. And he is not even the worst. What is troubling though is not merely the rush of rabbis and the religious right in Israel to blame gays for the countries’ ills, but the stern silence from the centre of the political arena, including ruling party Kadima and its senior partner in coalition the left-centre Labour.

Their overwhelming willingness to stand aside while the headlines of all major newspapers in Israel quote threats on gays life, should be especially alarming. Opposition to the parade is legitimate of course – but attempts to use power to prevent it from happening are not.

PM Olmert, whose daughter is openly gay, Education Minister Professor Yuli Tamir and vice Premier Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres, all were hesitant to stand against the violent attacks.

Only five MPs from Meretz were forming a clear and unified front in Parliament and in the public promoting the right of assembly and providing much needed support for the LGBT community.

What effect the current affairs will have on the LGBT community in Israel is yet to see.

Clearly it is the first time that controversies over gay related issues make it to the cover pages of the tabloids here. But the fact that since the Dreifus Affair, there has not been a controversy that split a nation that much, as now over the question should gays march in the street of Jerusalem, may count little in promoting pro-gay legislation at the end of the day.

Yoav Sivan is LGBT Coordinator for Young Meretz, LGBT Coordinator for the International Union of Socialist Youth and Board member of the Aguda, the Israeli LGBT Association. He is also a member of the Jerusalem Open House, organisers of the gay pride march.