Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Religious Ignoramuses of the World Find Common Cause in the Persecution of Gay People
Plans to organize a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem have been met with murderous threats and demands for state suppression.
As the day of the planned parade, November 10, approached, anonymous posters appeared in the communities of ultra-orthodox Jews promising $500 for every gay man or woman killed during the parade. Some groups reportedly had plans to bombard the marchers with apples studded with razor blades.
This campaign of persecution brought together leading fundamentalist and orthodox forces of the three major religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that consider Jerusalem their Holy City.
Among Jewish fundamentalists, the campaign was rooted most strongly among the ultra-orthodox religious parties who demand that all of society accept their rigid, backward-looking and highly oppressive rules for what is permitted and what is not. Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who is based in Brooklyn, New York, emerged as one of the leading organizers for these ultra-orthodox forces by making inflammatory statements like “Israel is the Holy Land, not the Homo-Land.” These forces reached out to clerics among Palestinian Islamist forces who believe that their reactionary version of Islamic law (Sharia) should be imposed on everyone.
Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim (a spokesman for the politically powerful Haredim “ultra-orthodox” forces) denounced the Gay Pride parade as “a provocation against the Torah, against morality and against humanity.” Meanwhile, Sheik Tayseer Tamimi, the head judge of the Islamic Sharia court in the West Bank and Gaza, declared: “This march is part of the wild campaign against Islam, the doctrine, the holy sites.”
Sheik Ibrahim Hassan, who preaches at a Jerusalem mosque, said, “Not only should these homosexuals be banned from holding their parade, but they should be punished and sent to an isolated place.”
The alliance between Jewish and Muslim reactionaries included plans for jointly confronting gay and lesbian people in the streets. As the November 10 date approached, anti-gay forces blocked the streets in Haredim neighborhoods night after night, lighting dumpsters on fire—and declaring that if the government didn’t suppress the gay march, they would do so using vigilante violence.
While these Jewish theocratic forces were threatening to attack gay marchers in west Jerusalem, Sheik Tamimi of the Palestinian Sharia court called on his supporters to confront gay and lesbian marchers in east Jerusalem.
The campaign to suppress the Gay Pride march also received international support. Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar personally appealed to Pope Benedict XVI for his intervention. In response, the Vatican (which is an openly theocratic state under Roman Catholic rule) sent a formal diplomatic note requesting that Israel’s government “exert all its influence” to cancel the parade. The Vatican’s note argued that freedom of speech should not include the right to offend “religious values.” (You only have to think about all the many things that would offend the “religious values” of such people to realize how sweeping and repressive this logic is.)
A U.S.-based evangelical coalition, Jerusalem Prayer Team, which includes leading Christian fascists like Jerry Falwell and author Tim LaHaye, also called on the Israeli government to stop the Gay Pride parade.
Ben Yizri, a parliamentary representative of a religious party within Israel’s ruling coalition, declared: “We believe God will be very upset” if the march was allowed to proceed. In Haredim neighborhoods, posters claimed that a Gay Pride march could cause their god to unleash earthquakes, war or other destruction on Jerusalem (just like he supposedly did on the ancient “Sodomites”).
This is the same totally unscientific “wrath of god” logic promoted by Christian fascists in the U.S. Rev. Pat Robertson claimed that god sent a hurricane to punish Orlando for a gay pride parade, and other Christian fascist preachers have said Katrina was god’s way of punishing New Orleans.
As November 10 arrived, the escalating threats against the Gay Pride parade were used by the Israeli city authorities as an excuse to ban the march. This parade had been postponed twice, rerouted, pared back, and viciously denounced. Then at the last minute, it was simply canceled by the Jerusalem city government, which is itself dominated by ultra-orthodox Jewish forces. The parade supporters were told to gather in a sports stadium without any public march at all.
Rabbi Levin declared victory: “A level of purity has been returned to Jerusalem.” And while such rabidly anti-gay forces celebrated, the gay and lesbian people who tried to march outside the stadium were attacked by reactionaries.
And in a final insult, Israel’s top court allowed anti-gay forces to march, even as the gay pride forces were being suppressed. The anti-gay forces led a parade of cows and horses—to make the point that they consider gay and lesbian people less than human. This “March of Beasts” moved through the very streets that had just been denied to gay people!
In the face of all the reactionary threats and attacks, on Nov. 10 thousands rallied at Hebrew University’s sports stadium for gay rights. According to the New York Times, “The police contingent of 3,000 was nearly as large as the crowd.” The police sealed off the area surrounding the stadium for half a mile, blocking any routes for an unscheduled march. The Times reported, “Many in the crowd said they were not gay, and had come to show support for civil rights in what has become a contentious annual affair in this religious, conservative city.” On the same day, the police arrested 30 gay rights activists who tried to march from a park in Jerusalem. The police also detained five orthodox Jewish men who were found with knives.
What stands out from these months of confrontation and debate in Jerusalem is that—despite all their other long-standing differences and hostilities—these conservative and aggressive religious forces have found common ground in their commitment to imposing extremely backward traditions, including the dominance of men over women and the harsh punishment of people for same-sex relationships.
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