Both bills were introduced by ultra-right religious parties. One bill — introduced by a deputy from the right-wing National Religious Party, a Zionist party associated with the Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories — amends the Basic Law on Jerusalem to “enable the Jerusalem municipal council to ban parades and rallies in town for considerations of disturbance to public order, offending the public’s sensitivities or for religious considerations,” the Israeli news agency YNet reports. It passed on first reading by 40-23. Jerusalem is currently led by ultra-Orthodox Mayor Uri Lupolyansky.
The second bill, introduced by deputies from Shas — an ultra-conservative party representing hyper-Orthodox Sephardic and Misrahi Jews — “is more comprehensive and calls for a ban on pride parades throughout the country.” This bill also passed on first reading by 41-21.
The left-wing Meretz party bloc in the Knesset was the only party group to vigorously oppose both bills. The head of the Meretz Knesset bloc, Zahava Gal-On, said in response to the vote on the two bills: “The government has revealed the extent of its ineptness by allowing the coalition members to vote freely, banning the gay parade in Jerusalem and thereby denying the gay community’s freedom of expression.”
She went on to add, “A double-sided sword has been turned toward the community. The Knesset is crazy, with a crazy government where the tyranny of the majority is more important than human rights,” she added.
An attempt last year to hold a Gay Pride march in Jerusalem provoked two weeks of violent riots by ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the march was banned. Instead, a gay rally was held in a soccer stadium.
The two bills had been denounced by Jerusalem Pride organizers. “The pride parade is an expression of our coming out of the closet. An attempt to prevent it is actually an attempt to shove us back into the closet,” Noa Sattath, chairperson of the Jerusalem Open House — an LGBT organization and principal organizer of the Gay Pride march — said this past Sunday.
After the bills’ passage yesterday, Sattath told the Jerusalem Post: “This is a dangerous bill, which could damage the bedrock of Israel’s democratic principles because of narrow political interests. We will continue to fight it in parliament and through the Gay Pride Parade…I feel that we and democracy in general are being harassed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — who has a daughter who is openly lesbian — said that he did not believe Jerusalem was the “natural place” for the Gay Pride Parade because of the city’s “special sensitivity.” But while refusing to support the banning bills, Olmert “also declined to direct the coalition on how to vote on the bill, giving all the coalition members freedom of vote. All of the presidential candidates, who are currently vying for the support of the religious MKs ahead of next week’s vote, were absent from the vote due to the sensitivity of the bill,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
At the end of May, Jerusalem Police gave conditional approval for a gay pride parade in the city, but said that the event was subject to restrictions based on the situation on the ground.
“It is within the district commander’s jurisdiction to determine, according to intelligence … he may have at hand, any restrictions he sees fit [for] the event, its location, and arrangements,” Jerusalem District Police Chief Cmdr. Ilan Franco wrote in response to the organizers’ request for a permit, according to the website Israeli Insider.
Both the bills passed yesterday require two more votes for final passge, although some Israeli media say there is doubt about the two bills being passed before the scheduled June 21 Pride march in Jerusalem, given the preoccupation of the Knesset with its task of electing a new Israeli president.
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared June 6, 2007.