Tensions in Jerusalem are steadily increasing, in expectation of the homosexual march and Sabbath car-park opening later this week.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said earlier this month that he would not open a controversial city car-park on the Sabbath for two weeks to enable an agreed-upon solution to be found. With the end of the deadline looming, and the parking lot expected to be open this coming Sabbath, it is feared that the situation will explode once again.
The Sabbath quiet was destroyed in Jerusalem two weeks ago when the Safra Square parking lot was first opened on the Sabbath. An estimated 10,000 hareidi-religious men took part in a protest rally against the opening. Led by top rabbis, the protest began around 5 PM on Shivtei Yisrael (Tribes of Israel) St., between the ultra-hareidi Meah She’arim neighborhood and the Old City, and continued until midnight. The rally became violent; several policemen and demonstrators were injured.
Police refrained from making arrests on the Sabbath itself, but arrested some demonstrators after the Sabbath ended, around 8:30 PM.
The city says that the parking lot is necessary to contain the heavy Sabbath traffic, and that it is run by a non-Jew. The hareidi side claims that the car-park is city-owned and that its opening is a public desecration of the Sabbath, when motorized travel is not permitted.
After the protest, Barkat announced a two-week period in which efforts would be made to solve the problem. During this period, Barkat was criticized by secular elements for “caving in” to the hareidim, following strong criticism by hareidim for having shattered the status quo by opening the parking lot in the first place.
The two weeks conclude at the end of this week, no solution has yet been found, and it is likely that another violent protest will shatter the city’s holy serenity this coming Sabbath.
Second Battleground: Homosexual March
Another battleground will be opened this coming Thursday with the homosexual pride parade marching through the center of the city. This battle appears to have been nipped in the bud, however, as many leading hareidi elements – who took part in protests against gay marches in previous years – now wish to turn the other cheek. The official explanation is that since the fight against the parades is a lost cause, given the courts’ approval – and even encouragement – for them, it would be educationally unwise to fight against them publicly. “Why expose our youth to this entire phenomenon?” is their approach.
Mina Fenton, until last year a Jerusalem city council member, was one of the leaders of the fight against the Jerusalem homosexual march in recent years. “Three years ago,” she told Israel National News, “when we had a wall-to-wall coalition of hareidim, religious, secular Jews and others, we succeeded in closing off the homosexual event in a stadium; that was the best arrangement we could have hoped for. Two years ago, however, the hareidim changed their approach, and said the fight was harmful from an educational perspective. I don’t agree with this at all; I think we have a general weakness in our generation, and that their prior reasoning, that our silence means public acquiescence to this abomination, continues to hold true now as well.”
Ephraim Holtzberg of Jerusalem, who worked closely with Rabbi Yehuda Levin of New York in previous years to galvanize religious and other public opposition to the march, has given up this year. “We have no soldiers,” he said. “I’m retired.”
Gay Response: Hareidi Noise Did Us Good
At least one pro-gay activist agrees that the current hareidi approach is the correct one – from the hareidi standpoint. “The gay community is now reaping now the fruits of the noise that the hareidim made over the past three years,” he said, preferring to remain nameless. “The hareidim gave [us] more publicity and awareness than ten marches could have brought. When the noise surrounding the marches stops for good, then we will know that they are no longer necessary.”
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former anti-march leader who currently serves as parliamentary aide to MK Michael Ben-Ari, does not agree. “The more you try to run away from a problem, the more it runs after you and hurts more,” Ben-Gvir says. “The gay march was once closed up in a stadium, and now it will be in downtown.”
While his boss, MK Ben-Ari, plans to march in Israeli-Arab cities as a sign of protest against the marches and against the police permits given them, Ben-Gvir himself is planning protest measures of a more direct nature. These include educational programs in schools explaining the dangers of homosexuality, protest vigils outside the Open House, and even distributing gloves to policemen protecting the march, to "protect" against “contracting” the condition.