What a moment. 25,000 people turned out for Jerusalem’s March for Pride and Tolerance one week ago. That’s five times as many as last year. For several hours, marchers walked the streets of Jerusalem chanting, singing, and praying.
The march was about standing up for LGBTQ rights. And it was also about Israelis uniting together to reject the voices of religious extremism.
It was a rejection of the violence that we saw at the march a year ago, violence that took the life of sixteen year-old marcher Shira Banki. And it was a rejection of the homophobia – and other retrograde views – heard from some of Israel’s most prominent rabbis in recent weeks.
For those of you who might not have been paying attention to these episodes, there were the comments of Rabbi Eyal Karim, whom was appointed to serve as the chief rabbi of the IDF. He was quoted rationalizing the rape of enemy women in wartime, opining that women should not be drafted into the military or be considered reliable witnesses due to their “sentimental nature,” and calling gays “sick or disabled.”
Then there were the comments of Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, the head of a state-funded pre-military academy. Hey called gays “perverts” and warned that their growing acceptance within the IDF would undermine Israel’s security. In his words: “As part of pluralism, they educate the soldiers and officers about what they call ‘pride.’ I don’t dare call it that; ‘perverts’ is what I call them. At the Officers’ Training School, there are lectures on perverts…”
This extremism – crudely exposed – backfired on the rabbis. It drew Israelis of all walks of life out to the march, to say that they disagreed with this divisive and hateful rhetoric, to take a public stand for equality, for democracy, and for an Israel that is inclusive. The crowd that came out to march included LGBTQ Israelis and their traditional allies in the secular progressive moment. But this year, notably, we saw a large contingent of Orthodox Israelis who turned up to show that those rabbinical voices do not speak for them.
The march was a testament to what it looks like when Israelis coalesce around a progressive issue. It’s a vision of a better Israel we all know is possible. I’m proud to dedicate this edition of NIF News to celebrating this important moment.