JERUSALEM – Warning of divine retribution and possible violent protest, evangelical Christians and rabbis from the United States have joined forces with ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel to fight plans to hold an international gay festival in Jerusalem this summer.

News sources report the WorldPride Parade, last held in Rome in 2000, is a 10-day event including street parties, workshops and a gay film festival. Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish Mayor Uri Lupolianski says he is powerless to interfere as public events are licensed by the police, not City Hall.

At a news conference Wednesday, California pastor Leo Giovinetti said hosting the 10-day World Pride event could bring divine retribution upon Jerusalem, citing the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorra as a precedent, according to Steve Weizman, writing for the Associated Press.

Weizman says ultra-orthodox Israeli lawmaker Nissim Zeev hinted at more earthly troubles. “With demonstrations we never know how they end up,” he said. “Residents here are enraged. Everything should be done to stop this [event] and not cause people to break the law.”

Lupolianski also sees a potential threat to public order in a city where religious feelings run high. His office warned in a statement that the parade “might instigate clashes,” Weizman reported.

Weizman said that in the past Israeli gays have held small marches in Jerusalem that have passed relatively peacefully, with a few shouted insults from onlookers and minor acts of vandalism.

He says the plan is for a major international happening; the Rome event attracted tens of thousands of participants.

Organizers of the festival, under the theme “Love Without Borders,” say they want to promote coexistence, Weizman wrote.

“The holiness of Jerusalem does not come from manipulating religion to keep people away,” said Hagai El-Ad, the director of Open House, the Jerusalem group that has organized local gay parades in the city. “Jerusalem’s holiness comes from it being a city that can bring together all kinds of people.”

Weizman says Giovinetti, from San Diego, has a nationwide radio ministry in the United States that he says reaches millions. He is seeking a million signatures for a petition against the Aug. 28 festival, which he said debases the sanctity of Jerusalem.

All 11 lawmakers from Zeev’s Shas party have pledged to sign the petition. Former Tourism Minister Benny Elon of the right-wing National Union says he has promises of support from another 30 members of the Israeli parliament, including Muslim cleric Abdulmalik Dehamshe.

Giovinetti said that as a devout Christian, he felt bound to join with observant Jews to fight an offense to their shared traditions, Weizman wrote.

“I haven’t come because I have hate for the homosexuals, I’ve come because I have love for the Jews,” Giovinetti said. “I believe that this march has been brought upon our Holy Land and that we’re defending ourselves, not the aggressors.”

Weizman reports that a majority of Jerusalem’s more than 600,000 residents are either Orthodox Jews or Muslim or Christian Palestinians, traditional communities that oppose homosexuality.

New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin, representing the Rabbinical Alliance of America – a group of 700 Orthodox rabbis – said that throughout the world many traditional Jews are offended by the planned event.

“This is not a parade. A parade takes a few hours. This is a 10-day homosexual convention with many outdoor activities and a 10-day pornographic film festival,” he said.

Petition to cancel homosexual event

Julie Stahl, Jerusalem bureau chief, writes that Giovinetti, an American Christian leader, with the backing of some Israeli politicians, launched a petition in Jerusalem Wednesday, calling on Israeli officials to cancel the planned WorldPride international homosexual parade and event scheduled to take place in Jerusalem this summer.

Stahl reports the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the city’s “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” center, is planning the 10-day event in August, which includes a parade down the streets of Jerusalem.

Stahl said it will be only the second WorldPride event ever. Critics viewed the first, which was held in Rome five years ago, as an affront to the Catholic Church and Christianity.

Giovinetti, pastor of the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship in San Diego, Calif., is the originator of the petition to stop the event.

Stahl says it addresses those who “govern” Israel and states that, “It is painful for us to comprehend why you would permit such a meeting. … It has been the historic position of each of these faiths [Judaism, Christianity, Islam] that homosexuality is an abomination to the one true G-d …

“We fear that Israel is now making a disastrous mistake by allowing this gathering to take place in this land where G-d has blessed you in such a special way. Therefore, as the children of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … we petition you to deny the request for this event to take place in this land where G-d has blessed you in such a special way.”

Stahl reports that in reaction to the petition drive, the Jerusalem Open House issued a press release even before the press conference was held, stating that while the theme for the event was “Love Without Borders … the fundamentalist voices rallying against this message demonstrate that intolerance and racism too have no borders.”

Those who organized the petition say they bear homosexuals no ill will, but it is a “provocation” for them to hold their international event in a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Giovinetti said the march is being forced on the city and therefore his group is the defender not the aggressor.

“They picked Jerusalem to make a point … [They want me] to accept them, to be tolerant but they’re not tolerant of my religious views,” Giovinetti told a packed press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, according to Stahl.

Giovinetti said that the three religions that hold Jerusalem sacred have all traditionally opposed homosexuality.

Daphna Stroumsa, vice chairperson of JOH argued that the event was “not against anyone or anyone’s faith.”

“I see this event as holding much promise for Jerusalem,” Stroumsa said in a telephone interview. “Jerusalem is a Holy City for many people … [which] includes many people who plan to celebrate … love and diversity,” she said.

Stroumsa was vague on the number of people who were expected to attend the event. “Many thousands” are planning to come to the pride event this summer, she said, including foreign missions from the U.S, France and Germany.

Stahl said Israeli Knesset member Nissim Zeev, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called the plans for the parade “a declaration of war on the holiness of Jerusalem.” Zeev, who was part of the panel of four addressing reporters on Wednesday, said it would influence the city and the youth to break the status quo here and tell them that there was an alternative way of life.

Israeli Knesset member Benny Elon, who also supports the petition drive, said it would be a “big mistake” to allow the event to take place in Jerusalem. Elon, who was minister of tourism until last June, called the plans to hold the WorldPride event here, a “provocation.”

“They want to provoke,” Elon said. “We’re not dealing with human rights, discrimination, or the freedom of demonstration … but to do it in such a place like this.”

Elon said that during the last four years when there was a sharp drop in tourism in Israel due to terrorism and the armed conflict with the Palestinians, Christians and Jews continued to visit Israel and it is they who would be offended by the WorldPride event, Stahl reported.

“We have to know what our uniqueness [is] and not to be ashamed [of] it,” Elon said, in reference to the biblical origins of Israel. “The Bible is behind all of it.”

Rabbi Yehuda Levin, who represents 700 rabbis as part of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, said he was representing thousands of rabbis and millions of Jews around the world who love Israel.

That international force is urging Israeli Jews to sign the petition, Levin said. He added that he was also working on gathering Muslim support.

Stahl writes that Levin challenged Jerusalem’s mayor, Uri Lupolianski, who is a religious Jew, to be “more prominent and active in standing up” for biblical values. Lupoliansky has been open in opposing the event but has said the decision is not in his hands.

“Parades in Israel do not require municipal approval,” a statement sent to Cybercast News Service from Lupoliansky’s office stated. “The only permit needed is by the police, so the Jerusalem Municipality doesn’t have the authority to allow or prevent any parade.

“Mayor Uri Lopolianski, who considers himself the mayor of all religions living in Jerusalem, opposes the idea [of holding] the parade in Jerusalem, out of concerns that holding it in the holy city might instigate clashes and hurt the delicate fabric of living in Jerusalem,” his office said.

Zeev warned of massive demonstrations like the city has never before seen if the event actually takes place, Stahl said.

According to some media reports, police intend to cancel the event because it will take place at the same time as the government plans to remove thousands of Israelis from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as part of the disengagement plan.

Police had no immediate response to a query about the reports. But Stroumsa said that JOH was in constant dialogue with the police over the event. “There have not been plans to cancel,” she said.

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