SAO PAULO (JTA) — Some 600 Jewish gay activists and supporters marched as a group for the first time at the Sao Paulo gay pride parade.
The group, wearing white T-shirts with a Star of David in rainbow colors, was supported by the local Israeli consulate, which was publicizing the Tel Aviv gay parade set for June 8. The Sao Paulo parade took place on Sunday.
“The initiative to attend and support the parade is another example of Israel’s pluralism. We intend to celebrate diversity,” Dori Goren, Israel’s consul general in Sao Paulo, told reporters.
Acclaimed Brazilian fashion designer Alexandre Herchcovitch, who was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish home by parents who immigrated from Poland and Romania, was the main organizer of the Jewish group, the first time a Jewish group has marched together in the event since its inception in 1997.
“People will see another little known side of Israel and Tel Aviv, which today is one of the most important sites in the world,” said Herchcovitch, whose designs have been seen on runways worldwide.
Wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, participant Ariel Cohen said he believes that people were surprised by his presence, but explained it was a must in his role as an interfaith dialogue and diversity activist for the Rio Jewish federation. Most of the Jewish activist marchers were from the area.
“As a religious Jew, I accomplish my mitzvot and, as a Kohen, I have a responsibility, I must shed the light,” he told JTA. “Supporting the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that respects human rights and gay rights is very pertinent.”
Hours before the parade, an anti-Israel political party slammed the Israel-backed Jewish group’s participation.
“We repudiate the presence of Israel because the country practices a notorious apartheid policy and genocide against the Palestinian people,” read a statement released by Sao Paulo council member David Miranda, who is affiliated with the PSOL party, known for its activism against the Jewish state.
Congressman and gay rights activist Jean Wyllys, who also is affiliated with PSOL, disagreed with his colleague.
“Uneducated people have pushed for a gruesome campaign to condemn and boycott the presence of Israeli LGBT tourists in the parade and the support of a Tel Aviv group. It’s absurd,” said Wyllys, who assumed a more pro-Israel stance after traveling to Israel on a trip sponsored by the Rio Jewish community.
He said the party’s attempt to prevent the Jewish group’s participation was “based on a misunderstanding that lies in anti-Semitism.”
Persio Bider, president of the Organized Jewish Youth, reacted to PSOL’s statement with a post on Facebook.
“Part of the Brazilian left-wingers decided to steal the LGBT flag and speak up on behalf of those who they do not represent,” he wrote.
“Palestinians flee their cities to Israel because in their own communities they are chased, humiliated and even killed just for being gay. In Gaza, gays are tortured, killed and exposed in public spots,” Bider told JTA.
Sao Paulo is home to half of Brazil’s 120,000-strong Jewish community. Its gay pride parade is considered among the world’s largest, gathering millions every year along the Paulista Avenue, the heart of the city’s main business district.