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June 27, 2016 12:34 pm

At New York Gay Pride Parade, Israel’s Presence an Important Act of Solidarity With Orlando Massacre Victims, Says Spokesman

avatar by Lea Speyer

Israel's float at the 46th annual New York Gay Pride Parade. Photo: Lea Speyer/ The Algemeiner.

Israel’s float at the 46th annual New York Gay Pride Parade. Photo: Lea Speyer / The Algemeiner.

Israel’s presence at Sunday’s annual New York Gay Pride Parade was a meaningful act of solidarity with the victims of the Orlando massacre, highlighting the message that terrorism and hatred will not win, a spokesman for Israel’s Consulate General in New York told The Algemeiner on Monday.

“This year, the float was particularly important to us as an opportunity to show solidarity with those who fell victim to the violence of radical Islamic bigotry in Orlando,” said Shimon Mercer-Wood.

Amid the celebration of gay rights and culture, a more somber tone ran through the 46th annual parade. The 49 victims murdered two weeks ago at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub by an Islamic terrorist were remembered throughout the parade, as the thousands of participants and spectators waved “We Are Orlando” and “Love is Love” signs.

According to Mercer-Wood, Sunday’s parade was more than just a celebration of the LGBTQ community.

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“As Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear in a statement shortly after the attack in Orlando — the attack on the gay club was an attack against all of us,” Mercer-Wood told The Algemeiner. “The same fanatical hatred that is directed against the LGBTQ community is also the fanatical hatred directed against Jews, against our values and way of life. It is therefore imperative to stand together with the LGBTQ community and show them our support. It is important to send out the message that terrorism and hatred will not prevail.”

Israel — which has been participating in the New York parade for the last decade — was one of three countries, aside from the US and Britain, to have a presence at the parade. In previous years, Israel was the only foreign country taking part in the celebrations.

Mercer-Wood said that due to the incredibly close and warm ties between New York and Israel, there are “many proud Israelis and also proud members of the LGBTQ community” living in the city. “It is therefore only natural that they should have their own float in the parade, where they can celebrate both components of their identity,” he said.

Israel has become a safe haven for many in the Middle Eastern LGBTQ community who have faced persecution in their respective counties for their sexual orientation, with LGBTQ community members in Israel enjoying some of the most advanced and liberal rights in the Middle East and across Asia. In 2014, the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, through its LGBT Military Index, ranked the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as one of the top 10 most gay friendly armies.

When it comes to protecting the rights of its LGBTQ citizens, Israel, Mercer-Wood said, cannot even begin to be equated with its regional neighbors. “How can you compare a society where the LGBTQ community are given full protection, equity and recognition in all walks of life to a society where homosexuals are executed and beaten to death?” he asked.  

Acknowledging that bigotry and violence against the LGBTQ community by “fringe elements” do exist in Israel, Mercer-Wood told The Algemeiner, “Israeli society has overwhelmingly shunned them [the fringe elements] and the Israeli justice system has been swift in bringing them to justice.” He added, “Israel is proud of being an open and tolerant society in which people of every gender, race, religion and sexual orientation can feel free and at home.”

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