Pride parade in Tel Aviv draws tens of thousands
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 gathering 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 mostly lifted. This year it is being held after Israel reopened to foreign tourists.
'úWe have a majority here in Israel that supports this community,'Ě said Mayor Ron Huldai. 'úTel Aviv has always been home for every transgender person, and every lesbian and gay person, and the home of anyone who wants to be who they are.'Ě
The crowds have grown so big over the years that this time around the organizers moved the event from the seaside promenade to a larger venue. Israeli authorities have been increasingly concerned about managing crowds since a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel last year that killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews, the deadliest civilian disaster in the country's history.
Some 250,000 people attended the Tel Aviv Pride parade in 2019, before it was called off the following year because of the pandemic. In 2021, an estimated 100,000 people attended.
Kutali Lansman, who attended this year with a handmade flag of solidarity with the bisexual community, said he's here 'úfor the fun, of course." He said the march is also a 'údemonstration of love, freedom and rights for the community.'Ě
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides attended the march with a delegation from the embassy. 'úThis is about tolerance and decency and respect, and being here with all the folks from the embassy is unbelievably meaningful to me,'Ě 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 is outlawed in some places. A pride parade held each year in Jerusalem is more subdued, with a heavy police presence and counter-protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Gay people serve openly in Israel's military and parliament, and the current health minister is openly gay. Yet they haven't attained full equality. Jewish ultra-Orthodox parties, which wield significant influence over matters of religion and state, oppose homosexuality as a violation of religious law, as do other religious groups in Israel.