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 Saturday that newly appointed Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the role, was “infected with a disease,” and insinuated that the deadly 2021 Meron disaster happened due to Ohana’s sexual orientation.

In his weekly sermon, the head of the Kisse Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak told students: “There is a time when everyone will be 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 walking on two legs. What can we do about them?'”

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

“Two years ago, something happened at Lag B’Omer and people say… that there was some minister there in charge of Meron who himself was infected with this disease. So is it really a question what happened to us?” Mazuz asked rhetorically, without mentioning Ohana by name.

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

In the last primary election for newly reinstated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 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) embraces Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir during a Knesset session at which a new speaker was elected, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

In March 2020, he claimed 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 needed for certain prayers. In 2015, he blamed a wave of deadly Palestinian terror attacks on Pride parades, several months after a Haredi extremist stabbed to death a 15-year-old girl 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 Nazis.” He claimed that the previous government had been seeking to “choke Torah students” while “giving as much as possible to 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, shortly before the confidence vote to inaugurate Israel’s 37th government.

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 on LGBTQ rights.

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

Several of Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners have expressed homophobic positions, including seeking to bring back now-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,” like the openly anti-LGBTQ Noam party.

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)

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

Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that he will not allow any infringement on LGBTQ rights despite the signing of coalition agreements that commit to discrimination laws to allow goods and service providers to refuse service based on religious belief.

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