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At Jerusalem's Request, U.S. Embassy Briefly Takes Down Its LGBTQ Pride Banner

A pro-LGBTQ banner is flipped over on a wall outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown Jerusalem.
A pro-LGBTQ banner is flipped over on a wall outside the U.S. Embassy in downtown Jerusalem.

A banner promoting LGBTQ pride was temporarily taken down from the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday after the city's deputy mayor complained about it, claiming it was offensive to residents.

The banner was rehung Tuesday night following media coverage and discussions between the embassy and city officials.

The banner reads "PRIDE: The U.S. Embassy Jerusalem proudly supports tolerance and diversity." It hangs on a perimeter wall of a building belonging to the U.S. Embassy to Israel, a historic stone property that until last year served as the U.S. mission to the Palestinians. Embassy officials hung it up before a rally across the street celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month next week.

Jerusalem's far-right deputy mayor, Aryeh King, said he asked city officials to have the banner removed Tuesday morning, after receiving complaints from residents. The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement that the embassy had not requested a permit to hang the sign and that the embassy agreed to have the banner folded up until a permit was arranged.

"I am surprised that the embassy decided not only to break the law, but also to put up a sign that the majority of residents oppose. Why take sides on a controversial issue and put up a sign on our street?" King told NPR. "Most of the Jews, Christians and Muslims in the city oppose it."

The banner faces a downtown street and park where Jerusalem's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer organization will hold an annual rally next week. U.S. officials also posted the banner there in recent years during the city's LGBTQ pride events.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that the banner was "temporarily taken down ... pending a discussion with the City of Jerusalem municipal government."

The banner was flipped upside-down and, in the evening, removed completely.

Jerusalem resident Natan Odenheimer said police officers confronted him as he photographed the banner being removed.

At night, it was rehung in the same location.

"This month we celebrate the LGBTI community and affirm that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity," the embassy said, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people.

LGBTQ events in Jerusalem frequently draw protest from conservative religious groups. At Jerusalem's pride march in 2015, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man fatally stabbed an Israeli teenager. In the past as a city council member, King publicly opposed LGBTQ events in Jerusalem.

"No one will stop pride!" the Jerusalem Open House, the city's LGBTQ organization, said in a Facebook post. "It is sad that instead of acting on behalf of all Jerusalemites, Deputy Mayor King is trying again to exclude the gay community and erase our presence. This attempt is destined for failure."

NBC News reported the Trump administration rejected requests this year from U.S. Embassies in Israel, Germany, Brazil, Latvia and other countries to fly the LGBTQ pride flag on embassy flagpoles this month. Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked embassies not to use the official flagpole to fly LGBTQ pride flags, but allowed them to hang pride banners elsewhere on their premises.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, removed an LGBTQ pride flag for unknown reasons, at the same time that it removed a Black Lives Matter banner following a request from the State Department.

NPR's Michele Kelemen contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.