Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul asserted Friday that there are no homosexuals in his “holy and pure” city and suggested that it was the responsibility of the Health Ministry and the police to “take care of them.”
Ultra-Orthodox Abutbul, of the Shas party, narrowly won reelection in October against secular challenger Eli Cohen, although voting irregularities caused a citizen protest and a police investigation into voter fraud. Beit Shemesh in recent years has been a flashpoint for secular-religious tensions.
In a Friday interview on Channel 10, Abutbul, when asked about the presence of homosexuals in the city, said that “we have no such things…Thank God this city is holy and pure.” The mayor said that he “was not involved” in the issue, and it was up to the Health Ministry and the police to “take care of them.”
The same segment featured an interview with a gay man, a resident of Beit Shemesh, who said there were actually “a lot” of LGBT citizens in the city.
Abutbul insisted that “you will hear only good things” from him about Beit Shemesh, which he called a “garden of Eden.” Abutbul also asserted that there are no women on the Shas party list because they “don’t want” to be involved in politics, but rather prefer to stay at home to “raise and educate their children… each one according their nature, what can you do?”
Rabbi Yitzhak Hagar, a Beit Shemesh resident, told Channel 10 that as far as “gays” are concerned, “the central problem is a psychological problem, which needs treatment… in our community the problem is treated very, very well.”
In response to the Channel 10 report, Beit Shemesh native Elinor Sidi, head of the Jerusalem Open House, told Ynet News that “I can only regret the change the city has undergone in recent years,” which she characterized as “hatred, ignorance, homophobia and racism.” The LGBT community was in the city “before Abutbul,” whose “Judaism is not the Judaism I was raised on,” she added.
Beit Shemesh, a city of 75,000 in the Judean hills west of Jerusalem, has become deeply divided in recent years as neighborhoods have seen a large influx of ultra-Orthodox residents.
The city has been the scene of sometimes violent tensions between the Haredi population and other residents. In 2011, 8-year-old Naama Margolese was spat on and insulted by Haredi men while walking to her school at the edge of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, bringing national and international attention to the city.
In July 2012, Egged was ordered to compensate a young girl who was forced by ultra-Orthodox passengers to sit at the back of a bus in the city. The presiding judge ruled that gender segregation on a public bus was illegal and it was the driver’s responsibility to prevent it.
In July of this year, a group of Haredi men reportedly smashed the windows of a bus after a women refused to give up her seat and sit in the back. Haredi rioters have also violently protested construction at a Beit Shemesh site that once may have been a burial ground.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.