Israel vows to ‘celebrate love’ as thousands attend Tel Aviv Pride

A woman carrying a child on her shoulder waves a rainbow flag during the opening event of the annual Gay Pride parade in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on June 3, 2016. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty)

Thousands are today attending the largest LGBT Pride parade in the Middle East.

The event in Tel Aviv, Israel, usually draws more than 200,000 people annually including thousands of LGBT tourists, making it the largest Pride celebrations in the region and one of the biggest in the world.

Thousands are set to take to the streets for the celebrations in the city, which is home to a thriving gay community.

Participants take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on June 9, 2017. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty)

Eurovision Song Contest winner Netta Barzilai, who has been vocal about her love for the LGBT community, is set to perform at the event.

Celebrations have been marked by the Mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, who according to Ynet vowed to “smash down legislative barriers until there is full equality.”

The Pride festival has been backed by the Israeli government, with Israel’s official Twitter account adding a message of support.

It said: “Today in @TelAviv we celebrate #loveislove . Celebrating ppl’s right for love of any kind and the openness of the Israeli democratic society where one can love with #pride and no fear.”

The theme for the event is ‘Making History’, “as a way to commemorate 20 years to Tel Aviv’s first pride, 30 years to the cancellation of gay sex restrictions and 10 years to the founding of the LGBTQ center in Tel Aviv.”

Delegations from several countries, including Belgium, Sweden and the UK, are set to take part in the parade.

Israel is moderately progressive on LGBT rights.

The country has laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, transgender people are able to change their legal gender, and the Israeli government recognises same-sex marriages conducted overseas.

Only approved religious authorities can administer legal weddings in Israel, and none approve of same-sex marriage, meaning gay Israelis have to marry abroad.

However attitudes in some parts of the country are much more conservative.

Jerusalem’s Pride parade has been disrupted several times over the years by violent clashes with ultra-Orthodox groups.

In 2015 16-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death at Jerusalem Pride by a homophobic former convict, Yishai Schlissel, who was sentenced to 31 years in jail.

The country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bolster tolerance for LGBT rights in the wake of the murder.

He said: “Shira was murdered by an extremist filled with hate. And this hatred has no place whatsoever in Israeli society.

“We will always fight against it. Sadly, some elements of our society are still not yet ready to accept the LGBT community.

“My solemn promise to you today is to continue fostering respect for all of Israel’s citizens, without exception.

“Whether you are marching today or not, I ask you to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community.

“We will not let hate drown out acceptance. Dignity, respect, acceptance. These are the values that will triumph.”