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WorldPride holy land: the conflict-heavy center point of three world religions is gearing up for the second global pride festival.

Although Israel is a fixture in the world's news headlines, thousands of newsmakers of a very different kind will be among the throngs of locals and tourists in Jerusalem celebrating the second-ever WorldPride event from August 6 to 12--a six-day festival and parade honoring gay pride and pride festivals from across the globe.

Like the first WorldPride held in Rome in 2000, the Jerusalem event is drawing both endorsement and outrage from religious and gay leaders worldwide. Unsurprisingly, each camp is invoking the spirit of Jerusalem itself to promote their cause, claiming that the city--holy to Muslims, Christians, and Jews--symbolizes everything WorldPride either celebrates or sullies. "Especially at this moment of conflict and potential violence," explains Or Goren, WorldPride media coordinator, "this is exactly the type of bright spot Jerusalem and Israel need."

Not so, say local religious leaders like Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, and Abdel Aziz Bukhari, a Sufi sheikh, who have come together in an unprecedented display of ecumenical solidarity, to oppose the event. WorldPride is creating "a deep and terrible sorrow that is unbearable," decried Amar during a late-March anti-WorldPride news conference in Jerusalem hosted by senior Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious officials. "We can't permit anybody to come and make the Holy City dirty," noted Bukhari, before adding, "This is very ugly and very nasty to have these people come to Jerusalem." Both clerics were loudly echoed by colleagues in the United States, as well, where evangelical pastor Reverend Leo Giovinetti of San Diego and Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America are actively working to have WorldPride canceled. "This is not the homo land," exhorted Rabbi Levin earlier this year. "This is the Holy Land."

A similar anti-WorldPride sentiment cast a shadow over Rome's 2000 event, culminating in the late Pope John Paul II's declaring from a balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square that it was an "offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics across the world." Nonetheless, WorldPride drew an estimated 250,000 celebrants to the Italian capital, and while the Jerusalem version has less lofty ambitions, it too hopes to lure thousands to a country far removed from the typical tourism map since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000. So far, gay groups ranging from Evangelical California Christians to New York synagogues delegations have confirmed their attendance this summer.

Still, it is local politics--and not international religious opposition--that will likely have the most impact on WorldPride's ultimate success. Organizers like Goren and other Israeli community voices insist the festival--like all public events in Israel--will be properly secured. What concerns many Israeli gays, however, is the choice of Jerusalem itself for the event--not because of its spiritual significance, but rather when compared to bustling Tel Aviv nearby, Israel's capital is simply uncool. "Foreigners may see Jerusalem as an important place for gays to march, but because of all it represents, we see it as a city continually engaged in conflict," says Gal Uchovsky, producer of the hit Israeli films Walk on Water and Yossi & Jagger. "I foresee [WorldPride] visitors spending most of their time in Tel Aviv, where it is much more fun."

Fun indeed--thanks to a thriving gay scene that includes nearly a dozen bars, clubs, and lounges; three sex clubs; two saunas; numerous Chelsea-Castro-style gyms; and a few oh-so cozy gay-owned restaurants. Tel Aviv is a city where a mega-pop star like Ivri Lider Israel's version of Justin Timberlake and writer of the soundtracks for both Uchovsky films--is so out, he announced his orientation in a front-page article in one the nation's largest dailies. It's also home to important gay political activists, such as Russell Lord and longtime partner, Avi Ozeri, who along with three other gay couples recently married in Canada. Lord and Ozeri will now head to Israel's interior ministry, which is compelled by international law to recognize foreign marriages. Although they will face certain opposition to interior ministry approval, Brooklyn-born Lord insists that when it comes to societal acceptance of gays and lesbians, "despite all of the problems we have here in Israel, the country continues to take giant steps forward."

Israel's status as a homo-friendly nation will face its most severe test yet with the arrival of WorldPride. While clerics condemn it and Tel Aviv hipsters bemoan its location, if successful, WorldPride will prove that religion and homosexuality can coexist in a place of extreme historical, spiritual, and political tension. Equally important, WorldPride will finally give Israel's influential--though geo-graphically isolated--gay community, a spot on the world stage. Says Uchovsky, "No matter what happens with WorldPride, visitors will have a lot of fun in Israel."
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Title Annotation:UPDATE
Author:Kaufman, David
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jul 5, 2005
Words:785
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