Tens of thousands attend Pride Parade in Tel Aviv, Israel
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Tens of thousands of people attended a pride parade in Tel Aviv on Friday at one of the largest public gatherings since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The lively parade and beach party take place on the Israeli city’s waterfront promenade, a rare hub of gay culture in the conservative Middle East. Elsewhere in the region, homosexuality is widely regarded as a taboo and is banned in many countries.
Some 250,000 people attended the Tel Aviv parade in honor of the LGBTQ community in 2019 before it was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“Pride events in Tel Aviv-Yafo are a long-standing tradition, centered on a message of equality, acceptance and human and civil rights,” said Mayor Ron Huldai. “This year, more than ever, we will celebrate together, walk together and fight together for equality.”
Israel fully reopened this spring after conducting one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, but a recent outbreak caused by the more contagious Delta variant has raised concerns.
Authorities are once again demanding that people wear masks in indoor public places from Friday and are advising the wearing of masks during large outdoor events like pride celebrations.
Several marchers said they were sad to have missed the parade last year.
“It’s not just a celebration, it’s also a protest for our rights, for our existence, so it really feels good to be here again to walk with everyone,” Noam Klar said.
Nina Korolev said it was her first time attending a pride parade.
“It’s so delicious, it’s amazing,” she said. “I am very proud to be able to be here in a free country with free people together. All humans must have the same rights.
Thousands of people marched through Jerusalem earlier this month in a much smaller pride parade, celebrating LGBTQ rights in the conservative city amid heightened police security.
Pride events in Jerusalem, home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, tend to be more subdued. A radical ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed a 16-year-old girl to death during a Jerusalem pride event in 2015, an attack that was condemned across the political spectrum.
Police say they arrested a suspected assailant in Tel Aviv after following him before the parade. The man in his 30s was found wearing nunchaku, an Asian martial arts weapon, as well as electric shocks, chains and other “assault devices,” police said.
Police later said they arrested a husband and wife who assaulted officers as they tried to enter the parade area so they could heckle the event.
Support for gay rights is growing in Israel, where gay men openly serve in the military and in parliament. Yet they did not achieve full equality.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which wield considerable influence on matters of religion and state, oppose homosexuality as a violation of religious law.
Associated Press reporter Shlomo Mor contributed.