June 6, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP)--An unprecedented gay pride parade set for Jerusalem on Friday has set off waves of criticism from leaders the city's dominant Orthodox Jewish population.

Moshe Hummer, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish city official, called the planned march a ``demonstration of sick people.'' Most Orthodox Jews accept the Biblical description of homosexual relations as an ''abomination.''

Hagai El-Ad, one of the parade organizers, said the hostile comments against the gay community only showed why the parade was necessary. El-Ad estimated there were 50,000 gays and lesbians among Jerusalem's 600,000 residents.

The parade is scheduled for Friday afternoon, a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said the municipality would not help finance the parade but would make arrangements for it to be held in an orderly fashion.

A majority of Jerusalemites are against the parade, said Hummer, spokesman for Jerusalem deputy mayor Haim Miller, an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

In a city holy to three major religions, a gay parade would ``hurt the sensitivities of the people,'' Hummer said, noting that homosexual practice is ``a crime which is punishable by two years jail.''

However, Hummer said, open display of homosexuality was not a crime, but rather a sickness. ``People suffering from disease do not display it openly,'' Hummer said. ``Why should they?''

But Hummer said there was no way to stop the parade, and the large ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem had no plans to protest it.

``We would like to hold a different parade in Jerusalem, with other symbolic meanings - a parade we feel is both necessary and possible, a parade for Palestinians and Israelis,'' El-Ad said. About one third of the city's residents are Palestinians, living in the eastern part of the city claimed by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state. Israel claims the whole city.

Public acceptance of Israel's gay and lesbian community has grown in recent years with annual gay pride parades in the more secular city of Tel Aviv and the success of transsexual singer Dana International, who won the 1998 Eurovision song competition.

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