Pride parade in Tel Aviv draws tens of thousands

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Tens of thousands of people attended this year’s Pride Parade in Tel Aviv on Friday, celebrating the LGBTQ community and calling for equality in the largest annual rally of its kind in the Middle East.

The sprawling event in Israel’s seaside metropolis, which resembles a festive block party, returned last year after pandemic restrictions were lifted. This year it is held after Israel reopens to foreign tourists.

“We have a majority here in Israel that supports this community,” Mayor Ron Huldai said. “Tel Aviv has always been the home of every transgender person, and every lesbian and gay person, and the home of everyone who wants to be who they are.”

Crowds have grown so large over the years that this time around organizers have moved the event from the seaside promenade to a larger venue. Israeli authorities have grown increasingly concerned about crowd management since a stampede at a religious holiday in northern Israel last year killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews, deadliest civil disaster in the history of the country.

Some 250,000 people attended the Tel Aviv Pride Parade in 2019, before it was canceled the following year due to the pandemic. In 2021, around 100,000 people attended.

Kutali Lansman, who was there this year with a handmade flag of solidarity with the bisexual community, said he was here “for fun, of course”. He said the march was also a “show of love, freedom and rights for the community”.

US Ambassador Thomas Nides attended the march with a delegation from the Embassy. “It’s about tolerance, decency and respect, and being here with all the people at the embassy is incredibly meaningful to me,” he told The Associated Press.

Israel is a rare bastion of tolerance for the LGBTQ community in the conservative Middle East, where homosexuality is widely considered taboo and banned in some places. A pride parade held annually in Jerusalem is more discreetwith a heavy police presence and counter-demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Gays openly serve in the Israeli army and parliament, and the current health minister is openly gay. Yet they have not achieved full equality. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which wield significant influence in matters of religion and state, oppose homosexuality as a violation of religious law, as do other religious groups in Israel.

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