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Israel: Influential rabbi says gay parliament speaker is 'infected with disease'

Meir Mazuz, a close affiliate to senior ministers in new government, blames speaker's sexual orientation for 2021 deadly crush
Amir Ohana takes part in Jerusalem Day celebrations near the old city walls on 21 May 2020 (AFP)
Amir Ohana takes part in Jerusalem Day celebrations near the old city walls on 21 May 2020 (AFP)

An influential rabbi with close links to senior figures in Israel’s new government has described the openly gay and newly appointed parliament speaker as “infected with disease”.

Meir Mazuz, an ultra-Orthodox leader and the head of Tunisian Jews in Israel, made the remarks during an online lecture on Saturday. 

He suggested that the sexual orientation of Speaker Amir Ohana, who in 2019 became Israel’s first openly gay minister, was to blame for a crowd crush in 2021 which killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews during a religious festival in the northern town of Meron. 

Ohana was public security minister at the time and oversaw policing at the event. 

“Two years ago, something happened at Meron, and they say that the minister who was responsible for the event was infected with the disease. So, do we even need to question why it happened to us?” Mazuz said during the lecture. 

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The rabbi also denounced the annual LGBTQ pride parade in Israel, describing those who take part in it as “beasts”. 

“Close the windows and tell your children that this is a parade of beasts, and they shouldn’t look,” he said. “There are beasts here who walk upright.”

Mazuz has a long history of inflammatory and offensive remarks. 

In October, he compared women to washing machines and gas ovens, while lamenting the end of religiously-sanctioned polygamy. 

Earlier this year, he described former prime minister Yair Lapid and lawmaker Avigdor Liberman as “worse than Nazis” and hoped for their deaths, due to their support for changes to the country’s religious status quo. 

In March 2020, he said that the spread of Covid-19 in Israel was divine punishment for gay pride parades.  

Anti-LGBT sentiment in government

The religious leader is a close affiliate of several figures in Israel’s new government, including Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, and the head of the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich.

Speaker Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party and loyalist of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed not to infringe on the rights of LGBTQ people during his first speech as speaker on Thursday.

That is despite belonging to the most right-wing government in Israel’s history in which several of Likud’s coalition partners have made homophobic comments in the past. 

Among them is Avi Maoz, head of the anti-LGBTQ Noam party, who supports gay conversion therapy and objects to allowing women to serve in the military.

Maoz serves as deputy minister in Netanyahu’s office and is the head of the authority of national-Jewish identity. 

Smotrich, who is Israel's new finance minister, is a self-declared homophobe who has described LGBTQ people as "abnormal". In 2006 he helped organise a "Beast Parade" in which donkeys and goats were paraded through the streets as a protest against Jerusalem's gay pride event.

At Ohana’s swearing-in on Thursday, several members of the Knesset, including Moaz and figures from the United Torah Judaism party, deliberately looked away during his speech.

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