Top rabbi calls gay Knesset speaker Ohana ‘infected,’ blames him for Meron disaster

Rabbi Meir Mazuz, an influential Haredi rabbi with close ties to several senior members of the new government, said on Saturday that newly appointed Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the role, “is infected with a disease,” and insinuated. that the deadly disaster of Meron 2021 happened because of Ohana’s sexual orientation.

In his weekly sermon, the head of the Kisse Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak told the students: “There is a time when everyone is asked: Are you part of the Pride Parade or part of the humility parade?”

“You should distance yourself from it,” he urged, continuing: “You see people walking and bragging [about] the Pride Parade in Jerusalem. Close the windows and tell your children: ‘This is a parade of animals, you have no business looking at it. These are animals that walk on two legs. What can we do about them?’”

Continuing his tirade, Mazuz suggested that Ohana’s sexual orientation was responsible for the Meron 2021 mob crush that killed 45 ultra-Orthodox people during the Lag B’Omer religious festival in the north of the country. Ohana was the public security minister at the time of the tragedy, a role that oversees the Israel Police, which is tasked with securing the annual Meron event.

“Two years ago, something happened in Lag B’Omer and people say… that there is a minister there in charge of Meron who is himself infected with this disease. So is it really a question of what happened to us?” Mazuz asked rhetorically, not mentioning Ohana by name.

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Mazuz, the rabbinical leader of Tunisian Jewry in Israel, has long been involved in politics. Having supported former Shas party leader Eli Yishai and his failed Yachad party, Mazuz has in recent years publicly supported United Torah Judaism, Shas under its current leader Aryeh Deri – the new interior and health minister – and far-right leader Otzma Yehudit Itamar Ben Gvir, the new national security minister.

In the last primary election for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly restored Likud party slate several months ago, Mazuz publicly supported Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, a staunch Netanyahu loyalist and the new communications minister. Ohana is also a Likud MK and a Netanyahu loyalist.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri (L) hugs Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir during the Knesset session where a new speaker was elected, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mazuz has a long history of making inflammatory comments about the LGBTQ community and others.

In March 2020, he claimed that the coronavirus outbreak in Israel was divine punishment for gay pride parades. In 2018, he said openly gay people cannot join a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jews required for certain prayers. In 2015, he blamed a wave of deadly Palestinian terror attacks on Pride parades, several months after a Haredi extremist stabbed a 15-year-old girl to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade.

Last year, Mazuz called then foreign minister Yair Lapid and finance minister Avigdor Liberman, as well as “all their friends” in the previous government, “traitors to their people” and “worse than the Nazis.” He claimed that the previous government had been trying to “stifle the Torah students” while “giving as much as possible to the Arabs.”

Mazuz has also argued that the popular messaging app WhatsApp is “destroying the world.”

New Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (top) and new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulate each other as the new government is sworn in, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Amir Cohen/Pool/AFP)

On Thursday, the Knesset elected Ohana as its speaker, just before the vote of confidence to inaugurate Israel’s 37th government.

In his first comments after being elected, Ohana thanked his parents – who were in the gallery – for accepting him “for who I am.” And he thanked his partner, Alon Haddad, “the second half of my life for almost 18 years,” who was in the gallery with the couple’s children, Ella and David, whom Ohana also mentioned.

Ohana promised that the incoming coalition would not infringe on LGBTQ rights.

“This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, will not hurt them or any other family,” he said in comments addressed to his family.

Several of Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners have expressed homophobic views, including trying to bring in now-banned conversion therapy, changing official forms to say “mother” and “father” instead of “parent gender neutral,” and running on the platform of a “normal family,” like the openly anti-LGBTQ Noam party.

United Torah Judaism MKs Yitzhak Goldknopf and Meir Porush, minister and deputy minister, respectively, in the new government, avert their gaze as MK Amir Ohana, who is gay, makes his first speech as Knesset speaker, December 29, 2022 (Screenshot of a film by Ari Kalman, Behadrei Haredim, broadcast on Channel 12; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The only MK Noam, the new deputy minister Avi Maoz, looked away as Ohana made his opening speech, as did members of the United Torah Judaism party.