More than a quarter-million people took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Friday for the city’s Pride parade, the largest LGBTQ celebration in the Middle East.
Under the blazing sun, participants made their way from Ben Zion Boulevard down to Charles Clore Park by the beach, where the crowds enjoyed live performances by Israeli Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai and others.
The theme of this year’s event was “Community into History,” a nod to 2018 being the 20th anniversary of Tel Aviv Pride, the 10th anniversary of the city’s LGBTQ community center, and 30 years since the Knesset decriminalized gay sex. (This year is also the 70th anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel.)
I am proud of everyone who is marching in the #TLVPride Parade today in support of #diversity and #equality. Promoting, protecting, and advancing human rights – including the rights of #LGBTI persons – has long been the policy of the United States. pic.twitter.com/sQLoBC1xv5
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) June 8, 2018
The city has been draped rainbow flags all week, illustrating not only Tel Aviv’s inclusivity but its awareness of LGBTQ tourists: Many traveled from around the world to specifically for Pride, including Andy Cohen, who made his first trip to Israel to serve as the parade’s grand marshal. “I’ve been struck by how incredible it is—not only to be here, but as a proud gay Jewish man surrounded by my people,” the late night host said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s also an amazing thing seeing gay pride flags flying everywhere next to the flag of Israel.”
Cohen praised the event as a beacon of inclusion and equality “in a region where many of the neighbors cannot live as their true selves or be who they were born to be.”
Other notable attendees included David Quarrey, Great Britain’s ambassador to Israel; MK Meir Ohana, the Likud party’s first openly gay lawmaker; and Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who promised the crowd he would work to “smash legislative barriers until there is full equality” for LGBTQ Israelis. While there are LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections and open service in the Israeli military, marriage equality and adoption rights are still elusive.
Unlike many Pride parades in the U.S, Tel Aviv Pride is mostly free of corporate sponsorship: Funding comes from the government, opening the event up to criticism that it promotes Israeli’s relative acceptance of the LGBTQ community to distract from the plight of Palestinians. But even pinkwashing critics were welcomed in the parade, holding banners reading “No Pride in the Occupation” and “Stop shooting protestors.”