Hilton Beach at Tel Aviv Pride, Tel Aviv Israel 1640001 > Ted Eytan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last Thursday, 150,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv as the annual Pride parade took place.

What happened

  • More than 150,000 revellers marched as part of the parade last week, kicking off a weekend of festivities.
  • Celebrating its 25th year, the parade took place amid high temperatures and heavy security, with hundreds of police officers deployed throughout the city.
  • People came from around the world to Tel Aviv to attend the parade, which is among the world’s most famous and popular Pride events.
  • Several streets were closed off to allow for the parade to take its route.
  • Celebrations continued into Friday as a number of Israeli artists, including 2018 Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, performed at a concert in north Tel Aviv.

In context

  • Tel Aviv Pride is the largest event of its kind in the Middle East, and among the largest in the world.
  • Israel is:
    • one of only a handful of countries in the region in which same-sex sexual activity is legal;
    • the only country in the Middle East to recognise same-sex marriages or unions;
    • the only country in the Middle East to recognise same-sex adoptions;
    • the only country in the Middle East to allow LGBT+ people to serve openly in the military;
    • and the only country in the Middle East to enforce laws outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Unfortunately, LGBT+ rights in the Palestinian territories remain under threat. In 2019, the Palestinian Authority banned the activity of alQaws, an LGBT+ rights organisation, describing its work as “a violation of the ideals and values of Palestinian society”.
  • Recent years have seen a number of reports of hate crimes against LGBT+ people going unpunished by Palestinian Authority security forces, including the beating and robbing of a trans woman and gay man in 2019, and a mob attack against a Pride parade in Ramallah in July 2022.
  • In the Gaza Strip, the terrorist Hamas government threatens LGBT+ Palestinians with routine harassment, torture and attacks, with senior Hamas commander Mahmoud Ishtiwi being murdered in 2016 for allegedly engaging in same-sex activity.
  • There are at least 100 Palestinians who have claimed asylum in Israel on grounds of their sexuality, but it is thought that the true number of LGBT+ Palestinian asylum seekers is considerably higher.

Political backdrop
Tel Aviv Pride took place this year against a backdrop of political turmoil in Israel. Many floats, signs and chants made reference to the government’s shelved judicial reform proposals, which prompted 22 weeks of ongoing mass demonstrations and were widely seen as undermining Israel’s democratic traditions. Unlike in previous years, no Knesset members were allowed to speak at the event, however Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai did address the start of the parade: “Pride weekend has kicked off with a clear message: We are all equal, we are all people, and we all deserve to love who we want without fear”.

One participant, Omer Elad, told the Times of Israel he thought this year’s event was “especially” important given Israel’s political climate: “In the Knesset and in the government, there are people who are not ashamed to say transphobic and homophobic things and to try and delegitimize our existence,” he said, referring to some far-right politicians who have recently expressed anti-LGBTQ sentiments. “For me, it means everything to be here and show people we’re here,” he added.

Float envy
For the first time, the US Embassy in Israel cosponsored a float in partnership with the popular local LGBT+ bar Shpagat.

  • “I had float envy, because I was here last year and the Brits had a float, and we didn’t have a float. So this year we have a float. I never want to be one-upped by the British,” US Ambassador Tom Nides joked.
  • “It’s really about bringing the community together, it’s about bringing our embassy staff together, and it’s about showing our respect for the LGBT+ community and the importance of democracy here in Israel,” he added on a more serious note.
  • Nides, who is due to leave his post this summer, said it “will probably be my last pride parade as ambassador, but it will not be my last pride parade.”
  • “As someone who cares deeply about these issues, I hope to be doing this many more times,” he added.

Without a hitch
Thursday’s parade took place peacefully despite some security concerns. Thirty minutes before the start of the parade on Thursday, police arrested a man near the route with an electroshock weapon, brass knuckles, pepper spray and another, unidentified, chemical substance. Police said the 33-year-old Tel Aviv resident was known to them from previous threats to harm members of the LGBT+ community, and suspect him of planning to attack the marchers. Furthermore, on Thursday, a far-right slogan was spray-painted on an LGBT+ centre in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market.

The previous week, an estimated 30,000 people marched in Jerusalem’s Pride parade, under tight security and without incident. The organisers reported that the number of participants was a record high since the 2016 parade, which followed the death of 16-year-old Shira Banki in a knife by an ultra-Orthodox extremist during the previous year’s event.

What happens next
Israel’s role as a bastion of LGBT+ rights in the Middle East was on full display last week, as were its traditions of protest and pluralism. The anti-judicial reform protests of recent months have demonstrated the resilience and political potency of Israel’s moderate majority, which remains committed to the Jewish state’s founding principles of liberal democracy, the rule of law, and equality.