Thousands of members of the gay community in Israel and its supporters took to the streets on Friday for the traditional Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv.
The parade kicked off in Meir Park in central Tel Aviv and was to proceed towards Gordon Beach. Unlike in previous years, many of the participants are carrying Israeli flags alongside gay pride flags. However, this year's parade is being held under significant concerns that it will be derailed by political debates surrounding the flotilla raid.
Politicians spoke at the kickoff of the event in Meir Park.
Ayala Katz, mother of Nir Katz, the young man slain in last summer's attack on the Tel Aviv gay youth center, spoke as well. This is the first gay pride parade in which she is participating.
"Today, Nir will not be marching with everyone, but I know that if Nir could see me now, he would be very proud of me," she said.
"I know that I, and perhaps other parents and other youngsters, would not be here today if it weren't for the murder, which helped them come out of the closet. I am here because we must respond to all the shows of homophobia, lesbophobia, and transophobia. We must arms ourselves with a lot of determination and patience in order to continue to process that must not be stopped. Even if there are those who will close their eyes so as not to see or will choose to bad mouth, we are here."
Politicians take part, too
Among participants this year is a series of politicians, including Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, Knesset Member Dov Khenin (Hadash), MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), and MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz).
In response to the political tensions shadowing the event, Livni said, "I heard concerns that sexual identity is also a political identity, as if there are no gays in the haredi or Arab populations, or among immigrants or old-timers. Defending the gay community must be a mission for free society and its leadership, which needs to speak up and not give in."
Yacimovich used the platform to send a message to her colleagues in the Knesset. "There are politicians, friends of the community, who are in the closet. Our audience won't understand it, they say to me. I respond, the time has come not to be ashamed so that the fight will succeed," she said.
MK Khenin insisted, in any case, not to divorce the parade from political issues on the agenda, and chose to come out against the Right in his speech: "The past year was saturated with incitement and threats, even for murder. We are hearing the warning bells ringing. Whoever attacks the gay community also attacks Arabs, incites on Saturday nights against Tel Avivians, and attacks leftists. We will not allow the democratic arena to be hurt."
'Community model of diversity'The festive parade is clouded this year by considerable concerns that the event be deteriorate into a political clash between radical leftists and participants from the center and the right of the political map on the backdrop of the Gaza-bound flotilla raid.
In light of the broad media attention received by the parade, considered one of the most extensive in the Middle East, prominent members of the gay community have recently come out with joint statement to avoid any and all activity that could be politically divisive and could ignite the event.
"The Gay Pride Parade, since its founding, has been a democratic celebration of the range of opinions and political leanings," the leaders wrote in their statement. "This fact has led to the parade always including and containing contradictory opinions and various leanings on the same token. The capacity for our community to contain this diversity makes it a model for the entire Israeli society by providing a model of tolerance and acceptance."
Nonetheless, before the parade started, various figures made it clear that they did not intend to abide the above request. A number of organizations within the community gathered near the scene of the youth center attack to initiate their own alternative pride parade, base on leftist political foundations. Some 100 activists started marching through Tel Aviv's streets calling out slogans such as, "There is no pride in occupation," and "Bibi, don't worry, we'll see you soon in drag."
This alternative pride parade joins three other leftist activities that took place Thursday night, when fountains throughout the city were dyed red in protest against the Gaza blockade.
The perpetrators, the so-called Committee against the Blockade, wrote in a statement, "We came to remind you that both on land and on sea, the blockade costs us in blood."
All of the dyed fountains are in central locations throughout the city – in Masryk Square, Dizengoff Square, and on Yigal Alon Street. Next to each one, graffiti was sprayed, reading, "Freedom for Gaza" and "Occupation=Terror."