July 22, 2016 at 9:56 pm EDT | by Jimmy de la Cruz
Record 25,000 people attend Jerusalem Pride march

Jerusalem, gay news, Washington Blade

A record 25,000 people attended Jerusalem’s annual Pride march on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Wayne McLean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The 15th annual Jerusalem Pride march took place on Thursday and was dedicated to the memory of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed to death at last year’s event.

The march was organized by Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a non-profit
organization that provides social services to LGBT people.

This year’s Jerusalem Pride march, a more modest event than gay Pride in nearby Tel Aviv, welcomed a record-breaking 25,000 people. The march began at Gan HaPaamon (Bell Garden) and culminated at Gan Haatzmaout (Liberty Garden.)

The main event was hosted by award-winning actress Gila Almagor, and featured performances by artists like Aviv Gefen and Dikla.

During last year’s festivities, Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, went on a stabbing rampage, wounding six marchers and fatally injuring Banki.

During the opening ceremony, Banki’s parents shared a message of acceptance and tolerance.

“Last year our daughter was murdered because she thought that every person has the right to live his life without being despised because of who he is,” they said. “It’s too late for us, and Shira will not see the reality change and progress that needs to be made in the public space, but it’s not too late for all of you.”

“Don’t let hatred, ignorance and prejudice swipe you,” added Banki’s parents. “Stand up for your right to live in a tolerant society.”

Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance CEO Sarah Kala-Meir remembered Banki as a figure of tolerance.

“Shira Banki was an unknown teenager from Jerusalem that was on a summer vacation, and like many others came to the Pride march to support the struggle for tolerance and rights equality,” she said.

“After her murder, Shira, unwillingly, became a symbol. A symbol of tolerance and love,” added. Kala-Meir “She didn’t choose to become one when she came to the march, but she lived according to the values which she believed in.”

The National Council of Jewish Women, a sponsor of the parade, issued a statement of solidarity with Jerusalem’s LGBT community.

“We call on the government and religious establishment of Israel to commit fully to the effort to ensure personal dignity and legal equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” it read. “Israel, and all countries, cannot condone bigotry and discrimination towards LGBTQ people. The death of Shira Banki, in a vicious attack at last year’s march is a terrible reminder of the violence and fear that such hate can foment.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was criticized by members of the LGBT community after he
told an Israeli newspaper that he would not be attending the march “because I don’t want to be part of something that offends the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public and the national religious public.”

“I’m not the one who should stand here now,” Assi Azar, a television personality and LGBT activist, told attendees. “The one who should have stood here is Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, but he is not here because he is afraid to hurt the religious sector feelings.”

Other leaders expressed a more welcoming and optimistic message to LGBT people in their struggle for equal protection under the law.

In a video message posted on YouTube, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence that LGBT people face on a daily basis and encouraged the public to foster an environment of tolerance and respect.

“Loving someone should never mean a life of fear and terror,” he said.

“For too long, the LGBT community around the world has faced violence and intimidation,” added Netanyahu. “Weeks ago, dozens of members of the LGBT community were gunned down in Orlando by a terrorist with a fanatic ideology. We’ve all seen the horrific pictures of ISIS throwing gays off rooftops. And the Iranian regime hangs them from cranes in public squares. This is nothing short of insanity.”

He added his “unwavering belief is that all people are created equal.”

“Shira was murdered by an extremist filled with hate,” said Netanyahu. “And this hatred has no place whatsoever in Israeli society. We will fight against it. We will not let hate drown out acceptance. Dignity, respect, acceptance. These are the values that will triumph”

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