Thursday, November 09, 2006

The only parade in the village

Much has been written this past week about the Gay Pride parade that is due to take place tomorrow in Jerusalem. Yet in many ways the argument is over more than just whether members of the ‘homeo lesbit community’ as they are called here, have a right to walk through parts of Jerusalem – it touches on what it means to live in a Jewish and Democratic State not governed by Halacha.

Every democracy has to be based on some sort of compromise between universalism and particularism, between the freedom to do how we please on the one hand and the importance of not harming or offending others on the other - or in Israel's case between the values of equality and traditional Jewish custom. And it leads to legitimate questions over the location of the event, whether we should use our understanding of the Torah as an objective moral compass, or whether it’s consistent that a fuss is made over an annual gay parade whilst weekly public Shabbat desecration at Teddy Stadium is ignored.

Last week someone graffitied a shul in Tel Aviv with the words ‘if we don’t march in Jerusalem, you wont walk in Tel Aviv.’ And whilst vandalising any place of worship is completely unacceptable, it raised an interesting point; because if being outwardly gay in the holy city of Jerusalem is offensive, maybe being openly religious in the secular and hedonistic city of Tel Aviv is equally unacceptable. And if a parade in November in Jerusalem can cause tyre burning and kabbalistic curses, what might Simchat Torah in Tel Aviv lead to…

But one thing is certain – the moment any event is cancelled due to fear of aggression and threats, we find ourselves on an extremely slippery slope. Because what message does it give to people unhappy with the decision making structure of the State? And if a parade can be cancelled by violence, then so can any other controversial policy – whether that’s throwing away Ethiopian (and British) blood, discrimination against Israeli Arabs or evacuation of settlements and outposts. Because the moment people think change can be affected better by crisis than by compromise, by demonisation rather than by dialogue, Israel is in danger of becoming a country that is a lot more dangerous to live in.

And regardless of one’s sexual or religious orientation, that’s not good news for anybody.