JERUSALEM, June 1 (Reuters) - Accustomed to a hostile response from some religious residents of Jerusalem, participants in the city's Gay Pride parade on Thursday found themselves in the unwelcome situation of looking to a far-rightist former adversary for their protection.
Now Israel's minister for police, Itamar Ben-Gvir was on hand to keep order as some 30,000 people took part in the annual event that he used to heckle as an "abomination". This time, he was heckled back with chants of "shame" from the participants.
Catapulted into national politics last year at the head of the ultranationalist Jewish Power party, Ben-Gvir has disavowed his past remarks. He describes homosexuals as his "brothers" and has promised security for all law-abiding citizens.
"I want to ensure that not even a hair on the heads of the marchers is harmed, and police are fully prepared," he told reporters as the parade kicked off, referring to some 2,000 officers deployed, some of them in plainclothes to blend in.
Ahead of the event, police said three people were detained over suspected threats against the marchers. The Islamist militant group Hamas also called on Palestinians, who contest Israeli control of Jerusalem, to "confront" the Gay Pride parade.
The event passed without incident. But that was cold comfort for a community that report a 400% increase in anti-LGBTQ incidents since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's religious-nationalist coalition government was installed in December.
"It's not a coincidence," said centrist opposition lawmaker Meirav Cohen. Noting Ben-Gvir once promoted a "parade" of livestock meant to liken homosexuality to bestiality, she said it was "a really hard feeling" to see him as police minister.
Describing Jerusalem as a "mosaic" of differing views, Ben-Gvir said he would also safeguard the right to counter-protest.
Among those doing so was Benzion Gopshtein, a veteran far-right activist - and father-in-law to Ben-Gvir's chief of staff.
"It's a democratic country and in a democratic country they are marching so we are protesting against it," he told Reuters as he stood behind a police cordon with around other, mostly religious Jewish men. One held a sign that said: "Jerusalem is not Sodom".
Alon Sheler, CEO of the Jerusalem LGBTQ centre Open House, said this year's march was less about asking for breakthroughs in policy and more about "being able to walk on the street and not be bullied or to receive physical violence and verbal violence".