ERUSALEM Alarmed by a large international gay gathering planned in Jerusalem this summer, Israel's chief rabbis joined top Christian clerics and Muslim representatives Wednesday to condemn the event as a provocation, warning that it could trigger unrest in the city holy to their faiths.
Sheikh Abed El Salem Menasera, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Eirineos, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Armenian Patriarch Turkum Manijian, Sefardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkanezaic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger at a Jerusalem news conference yesterday
Representing communities that are sometimes bitterly divided by political and religious conflict, the Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergymen appeared at a joint news conference organized by the chief rabbinate, in a rare show of unity.
They issued a declaration warning that holding the gay event in Jerusalem would "desecrate its sanctity and character and cause a breakdown in public order," and they called on Israeli authorities to prevent it.
Jerusalem was chosen as the venue for WorldPride 2005, a 10-day festival organized by InterPride, The International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Coordinators, which organizes gay events in various countries.
The main event of the Jerusalem gathering, scheduled to take place in August, will be a parade, and the program also includes a film festival and theater performances, art exhibitions, academic and interfaith conferences, and parties.
The first WorldPride event was held in Rome in 2000, drawing tens of thousands of participants from around the world despite opposition from the Vatican.
Organizers of this year's event said they chose Jerusalem to promote tolerance in the conservative, ethnically divided city that has been battered by violence in more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the religious leaders said the gay gathering would offend believers of all faiths and aggravate tensions at a time when the political climate will already be charged by Israel's expected evacuation this
summer of all settlements in the Gaza Strip.
"We have enough tensions in our small country," said Yona Metzger, one of the two chief rabbis. "Adding fuel to the fire now, adding tension to tension and creating a new provocation will inflame all the religions of the world."
He added: "We call on the organizers: Please, do not harm the sanctity of Jerusalem, preserve its character, its peace, its brotherhood ... and cancel your plans."
Local gay pride parades have been held in Jerusalem in the past two years without serious incidents, provoking only small protests despite strong denunciations by some Orthodox Jewish spokesmen.
This year's large-scale event has caused a louder outcry, however, and a statement by the municipality said Jerusalem's fervently-Orthodox mayor, Uri Lupoliansky, opposed the parade "out of concerns that holding it in the holy city might instigate clashes and hurt the delicate fabric of living in Jerusalem."
The parade requires a police permit, but the municipality is not authorized to prevent it, the statement said.
A public opinion poll presented at the news conference showed that nearly 75 percent of the adult residents of Jerusalem oppose the gay pride parade and accompanying events. The survey polled 400 people and did not cite a margin of error.
Jerusalem has a large population of Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Palestinians, traditional communities who oppose homosexuality.
Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric in the holy land, said at the news conference: "The limit of any freedom is the freedom of the other. We call as one ... to respect the holiness of this city, not to provoke the religious feelings of all the believers in this city."
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel and representative to the Palestinians, called the planned gathering "a provocation to the Jews, Christians and Muslims of Jerusalem and all over the world."
"No one can assure that this parade will go on in a peaceful way and will not provoke reaction from the faithful," he added.
Representatives of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchs made similar appeals, as did a Muslim cleric from East Jerusalem and two from northern Israel.
Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House, the gay advocacy center in the city, said the planned gathering was meant to promote "the values of a pluralistic Jerusalem."
"The message of the events is that different people can live together, precisely in a place like Jerusalem, which is known for its divisions and tensions," El-Ad said.