Israel Refuses to Ban Gay Pride Parade

By MATTI FRIEDMAN
The Associated Press
Sunday, November 5, 2006; 11:50 PM

JERUSALEM -- Israel's attorney general refused to ban a gay pride parade in Jerusalem despite threats of violence from ultra-Orthodox Jews, instructing police and gay activists to try to work out a compromise, the police commander said Sunday.

A Justice Ministry statement said Attorney General Meni Mazuz ordered police to meet with gay activists "to work out a reasonable alternative proposal" for the march, set for Friday on a route through the middle of the city. The meeting is to take place Monday, gay activists said, and a compromise was likely.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have rioted in Jerusalem nearly every night over the past week, burning garbage cans, blocking roads and assaulting police officers in an attempt to get the authorities to call off the march, approved months ago by the Supreme Court. Many religious Jews, Muslims and Christians see homosexuality as a sin and the march as an affront to the sanctity of the holy city.

Police said Sunday that the danger of violence was too great to allow the march to proceed, but left the final decision to Mazuz.

"We understand that the potential danger to life and bloodshed is greater than that to free speech," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Ella Canetti, one of the organizers of the gay pride march, said they would meet police on Monday and were willing to be flexible.

"We are prepared to alter the route of our march to meet police concerns," she told The Associated Press. "According to what we understand, a modest gay pride march will take place in Jerusalem."

After meeting Mazuz, Jerusalem police commander Ilan Franco said, "It may be that there will be a march and a closing event at place which both sides decide is reasonable and minimizes potential damage and danger."

But it was unclear whether such a compromise would satisfy the ultra-Orthodox Jewish opponents.

At last year's march, an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed and wounded three participants.

There was some dissent Sunday among gay activists. Saar Nathaniel, a gay member of Jerusalem's City Council and one of the march's planners, suggested Sunday that gay activists cancel the march in return for ultra-Orthodox members of parliament supporting gay rights legislation.

A gay columnist in the liberal Haaretz daily called on organizers to show sensitivity for Jerusalem's special status as a city holy to three faiths and move the march to the more permissive Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem police said six policemen have been hurt in the clashes over the past week and 60 rioters have been arrested. Over the weekend, the disturbances spread outside Jerusalem to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, where rioters blocked one of Israel's main highways with burning tires.

© 2006 The Associated Press