‘God have mercy’: J’lem chief rabbi pans Orthodox MKs who backed gay Knesset speaker

Jerusalem’s Sephardic chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, said Sunday that it was “unbearable” that an openly gay man, Likud lawmaker Amir Ohana, was made Knesset speaker and sharply criticized the religious parliamentarians who supported his appointment.

“This whole thing with the abominations – today they’re glorified. For shame. Such a disgrace,” said Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, in widely distributed recordings of a recent lecture.

“Woe to the ears that hear of such things. It is unbearable. They appoint them to roles that are considered lofty. They have lost all of their shame,” he said, without mentioning Ohana by name.

Amar, who has repeatedly attacked LGBTQ people, previously calling them “wild animals,” is the latest ultra-Orthodox rabbi to criticize Ohana’s appointment. On Saturday, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, an influential Haredi rabbi with close ties to several senior members of the new government, said Ohana was “infected with a disease” and insinuated that the deadly 2021 Meron disaster happened due to Ohana’s sexual orientation.

Ohana responded to Mazuz’s remarks on Sunday night, saying he’d rather “fail a hundred times with unrequited love of Israel and to do so once from baseless hatred of Israel.”

On Sunday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attacks on Ohana by Amar and Mazuz, citing a passage from Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot), a compilation of rabbinic ethical teachings.

“‘Beloved is man for he was created in the image [of God].’ Every person is created in God’s image. That is the fundamental belief that was given to humanity thousands of years ago by our people, and it is the fundamental belief that guides us today,” the prime minister said.

In addition to calling LGBTQ people “a disgrace,” Amar also condemned the religious lawmakers who voted in favor of Ohana’s appointment.

“Unfortunately, it seems like even people who are considered God-fearing are supported [the appointment]. This is a massive disgrace — [that people who] represent the Torah and Judaism… God have mercy,” Amar said.

Newly elected speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana prepares to make his first speech immediately after he was elected by fellow MKs, at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The Knesset elected Ohana as its speaker on Thursday, shortly before the confidence vote to inaugurate Israel’s 37th government. A former minister in past governments, Ohana is the Knesset’s first openly gay person to hold the position of speaker.

The outcome of the plenum vote was 63-5, with all coalition lawmakers voting in favor – including the members of the Haredi parties and the Religious Zionism party – except for United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Tessler, who was overseas.

In his first remarks 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 vowed the incoming coalition would not infringe upon LGBTQ rights.

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

Some ultra-Orthodox MKs averted their gaze when he delivered his speech.

United Torah Judaism MKs Yitzhak Goldknopf and Meir Porush, a 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 from footage by Ari Kalman, Behadrei Haredim, broadcast on Channel 12; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Several of Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners have expressed homophobic positions, including advocating for bringing back currently banned conversion therapy, changing governmental forms to say “mother” and “father” instead of the gender-neutral “parent,” and running on the platform of a “normal family.”

The openly anti-LGBTQ Noam party’s sole MK, incoming deputy minister Avi Maoz, looked away as Ohama made his inaugural speech Thursday, as did members of the United Torah Judaism party, despite voting for his appointment.

MK Yitzhak Pindrus, of UTJ, walked out of Ohana’s acceptance speech. On Sunday, he told the Kan broadcaster that it was his “right to feel uncomfortable when Amir Ohana talks about his family.”

One member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, despite voting for Ohana, expressed reservations in light of the Likud MK’s sexual orientation.

“We aren’t happy with the path he’s taking but we look at the person and not his tendencies,” MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, who is a minister in the Welfare Ministry in the new government, told the Ynet news site.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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