Thousands paid tribute to murdered teenager Shira Banki on Thursday as a record-breaking 25,000 took part in Jerusalem’s annual Gay Pride march.
The 15th annual parade saw a heavy police presence, with up to 30 people arrested on suspicion of trying to disrupt it, two of whom were found to be in possession of knives.
Despite threats to the event and painful memories of the attack at last year’s march which claimed the life of 16-year-old Shira and injured five others, five times the previous record numbers attended the event in response to a call from the youngster’s parents Ori and Mika. They told marchers: “It’s too late for us, and Shira will not see the change and the progress that needs to be made made in the public space – but it’s not too late for all of you. Don’t let hatred, ignorance and prejudice swipe you. Stand up for your right to live in a tolerant society.”
Participants laid flowers in Shira’s honour at the corner of King George and Washington street, which is the spot she lost her life. Charedi man Yishai Schlissel, who had only recently been released from prison, having done something similar in 2005, was recently jailed.
Sarah Kala Meir of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (JOH), which organised the march, said: “The religious community was never our enemy. We take pride in a wide religious community with members from all sorts of beliefs”, citing Orthodox, Conservative, Reformists, Christians and Muslims as supporters. “Our enemies are people with dark opinions.” She said Shira had come to last year’s event to “support the struggle for tolerance and rights equality” and had become a symbol of “love”, but that the world didn’t want to see any more young symbols.
Speeches made at the event included criticism of Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat who, while backing the right of tjhe march to take place in the city and efforts for tolerance, decided not to attend for fear of offending ultra Orthodox community. TV personality Assi Azar said “I’m not the one who should stand here now. The one who should have stood here is Nir Barkat.. But he is not here because he is afraid ‘Don’t want to hurt the religious sectors feelings’ “.
He continued: “Today we have with us here religious people, men and women, which are a part of the LGTBQ Community, and we have religious leaders who honored us with their presence here. This is the only way. This is how a bridge is being built.”
Earlier this week, a group of 250 Charedi rabbis and yeshiva heads wrote in support of Rabbi Yegal Levinstein, the head of an IDF pre-conscription academy, who was criticised for calling homosexuals “perverts,” and in support of another rabbi, who said gay people were “handicapped”.
The week saw a backlash against the Orthodox statements, with hundreds of signatories to a statement of tolerance advertised in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, sponsored and coordinated by New Israel Fund. Several British Jews added their name, telling Pride marchers: “We stand with you in spirit today.
“After Shira’s murder, there were many voices saying that even though they don’t agree with the LGBTQ way of life and resist the concept of the Jerusalem Pride March, they still cannot accept violence as a legitimate demonstration of disagreement,” they said. “To all these voices and everyone who feels and thinks that way, we except to see you march this year.”