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Senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi close to several right-wing ministers calls gay Knesset speaker ‘infected with disease’

The rabbi also alluded to Amir Ohana’s sexual orientation as contributing to the deadly tragedy on Mt. Meron in 2021

Rabbi Meir Mazuz speaks at a campaign event in Bnei Brak, Mar. 12, 2019. (Photo: Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

A senior rabbi with close ties to Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, ultra-Orthodox Health Minister Aryeh Deri and Minister of Communication Shlomo Karhi maligned Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana for his homosexual identity, saying he was “infected with a disease.” 

Making the comment in his weekly class, Rabbi Meir Mazoz hinted that Ohana’s sexual orientation contributed to the devastating tragedy that took place at the Mt. Meron pilgrimage site in 2021, when a crowd crush killed 45 Jewish worshippers. At the time, Ohana served as Israel’s public security minister. 

“Two years ago, something happened on Lag B’Omer,” said Mazoz, “and they say that the minister who was in charge of Meron has been infected with that disease. … So, is there even a question over what happened to us?”

The rabbi also commented on pride parades, telling parents to explain to their children: “This is a beast parade, there is nothing to see here. There are beasts walking on two [feet]. What will we do to them?” 

On Sunday, several members of the government, including religious Knesset members, rejected the rabbi’s remarks. Jewish Power party Knesset Member Zvika Fogel said in an interview with a local radio station that, although he doesn’t tend to argue with rabbis, he doesn’t have to agree with them. 

“Sometimes, it is my duty not to agree with rabbis,” he said. “I respect Ohana and supported his appointment.” 

“There are people among us who don’t like the parade, but there is a big difference between not liking and preventing the right to a parade. We will not get there,” Fogel said. 

Jewish Power party chairman Itamar Ben Gvir posted a picture of himself hugging Ohana on Thursday, following his confirmation as the new speaker, writing: “Congratulations to my friend @AmirOhana on your election as the coalition candidate for Speaker of the Knesset. A great man, with a big heart and the right man for this important position.”

The picture was shared and labeled “blasphemy” by Jewish Power party member Baruch Marzel, who a judge disqualified from running for the Knesset on the grounds of inciting racism. 

Ohana’s fellow Likud member Amichai Chikli, the diaspora affairs minister and the social equity minister in Israel’s new government, added: “I strongly condemn Rabbi Mazoz’s hateful comments against Knesset Speaker Ohana and against the LGBTQ+. No disease is more dangerous than free hate. We will win through the love of Israel.” 

Ohana has served in several high-profile roles throughout his political career, always championing the fact that he is homosexual. As an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he became the first openly gay member of Israel’s security Cabinet – served as justice minister and public security minister – and now the highest-ranking member of the Knesset.

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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