Jerusalem holds annual Pride Parade despite threats

JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of people attended the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade on Thursday amid heavy protection by Israeli police, who arrested three people suspected of threatening the event.

Past years have seen religious radicals attack participants. Jerusalem is home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and other conservative religious groups, and many residents oppose the event.

The Jerusalem parade is much smaller than the yearly festivities in the more liberal Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub on the Mediterranean Sea. Up to 7,000 people attended the Jerusalem march this year, police said.

Police could be seen deployed on nearby rooftops and a police helicopter hovered overhead. The police said they arrested two suspects with batons, tear gas and gloves in their car who were heading to the parade area.

In 2015, an Israeli man stabbed 16-year-old Shira Banki to death and wounded several others at the Jerusalem Pride Parade; he had recently been released for a similar attack on parade participants in 2005. The attack was widely condemned across Israel’s political spectrum.

Earlier Thursday, police said they had apprehended a 21-year-old European citizen residing in Jerusalem on suspicion of sending threats to an organizer of the parade and to several members of parliament who support LGBTQ rights. The police provided no further details.

“We will not allow the Pride Parade to take place in Jerusalem, the holy city. Shira Banki’s fate awaits you,” read the threat sent to liberal Labor party lawmaker and longtime LGBTQ-rights supporter Gilad Kariv.

Some members of Israel’s ultra-religious community oppose the parade, homosexuality, and LGBTQ rights, and say the event should not take place in the holy city. A far-right anti-LGBTQ group, Lehava, usually stages a counter-protest nearby.

Earlier this week, Israel’s defense minister said the government would consider designating Lehava a terrorist organization for affiliation with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and his violent, anti-Arab ideology.

Israel has emerged as a major gay-friendly travel destination in recent years, in sharp contrast with the rest of the region, where gays are often persecuted and even killed. Members of the LGBTQ community serve openly in Israel’s military and parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers as well as the country’s current health minister are openly gay. But leaders of the LGBTQ community say Israel has a long way to go to promote equality.

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