The 10th Annual Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade took place on Thursday in the biblical holy city, and attracted plenty of controversy, with protesters rallying against the event's purported harm to Jerusalem's "sanctity."
More than 5,000 gays and lesbians and their supporters gathered in Jerusalem for the parade, the Times of Israel reported. They assembled in the downtown Independence Park before starting their march through the city.
"We must work together to strengthen Jerusalem as a modern, open capital and to foster welcoming, inclusive communities across the Jewish world," said American philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who made the opening remarks. "It is vital to the health and vibrancy of the global Jewish future and to ensuring a strong Israel."
Hundreds of counter-demonstrators, however, were led by activist Baruch Marzel, who brought three live donkeys with him as part of the demonstration. The donkeys wore signs that read "I'm proud too," "Proud Donkey" and "Pride March."
"Jerusalem cannot stand impurity and abomination," Marzel said, according to Israel National News. "What these leftists and perverts are doing in Jerusalem is hurtful to all residents of Jerusalem, to the sanctity of Jerusalem, and a danger to the existence of the nation of Israel in the land of Israel."
Marzel explained that donkeys are said to protest the "bestiality" of the Pride and Tolerance parade, although he shared that police had given him trouble over the plan.
"This is animal abuse, and we really hope the Agricultural Ministry will get involved to stop this," argued Elinor Sidi, director of Jerusalem's Open House, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community center. She also said that Marzel tries to bring the dinkeys every year at the event, so this is not something new.
"We're marking a decade of advancement in this city," Sidi added. "In the first years of the parade there was terrible violence against participants, but now it has become part of the status quo of this city."
AFP reported that police were out in force guarding the event and making sure there were no violent outbreaks.
"Several hundred police officers are securing the event and approximately 3,000 people are taking part," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Trouble has also been reported from the gay activists' side. On Thursday morning, The Jerusalem Post reported that the town's white "Welcome to Jerusalem" sign had been spray painted with rainbow colors – suggesting it was in support of the gay pride parade. Event organizers have said that it counts as vandalism of property and should not be tolerated.
Sidi clarified that her organization was against all forms of violence, and noted that a day earlier activists had opened a center in Tel Aviv dealing with abuse directed against the gay and lesbian community.
Protesters only gained official permission to hold a counter-protest in Shabbat Square in the city a few years ago, although Sidi affirms that her organization does not have a problem with that as long as there are no major disturbances, emphasizing that Open House respects people's right to free speech.