Haredi MKs stay away as first openly gay Likud MK sworn in

In maiden speech, Amir Ohana voices identification with downtrodden in Israel; Netanyahu ‘proud’ to have him on board

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK Amir Ohana in the Knesset. (Knesset spokesman)
Likud MK Amir Ohana in the Knesset. (Knesset spokesman)

MK Amir Ohana, the Likud party’s first openly gay lawmaker, was sworn in to the Knesset on Monday afternoon.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers skipped the ceremony, with a source in the United Torah Judaism party quoted by Channel 2 as saying that they plan to “ignore him, today and altogether.”

In his opening remarks to the Knesset plenum, Ohana, who replaces former interior minister Silvan Shalom, identified himself as a “Jew, Israeli, Mizrahi, homosexual, a Likud member, a security buff, a liberal and a man of the free market,” in no particular order.

When people cry “Death to the Jews,” Ohana said, using the Arabic phrase, “I am a Jew first.

“When they shoot, boycott, label, and expel — I am a settler. When they try to blur cultures, to minimize and ignore — I am Mizrahi. When they defame IDF soldiers and security forces — I am a soldier,” said Ohana. In the latter example, the fresh MK was referring to the recent controversy over the Breaking the Silence NGO, which documents alleged abuses by IDF soldiers.

New Likud MK Amir Ohana is congratulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his swearing-in, on December 28, 2015. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
New Likud MK Amir Ohana is congratulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his swearing-in, on December 28, 2015. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)

Ohana also sided with the residents of south Tel Aviv, who have long complained about the influx of African migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.

“When entire neighborhoods are not as they were, and the elderly are forced to live out the remainder of their lives in fear — I am a south Tel Aviv resident. And when the outside appearance of a man is considered a good reason to hate him, to distance him from neighborhoods and employment — I am an ultra-Orthodox Jew who is not afraid,” he added.

“When a baby is burned with his relatives, dammit, I’m with you, brothers,” Ohana said, finishing his sentence in Arabic. Ohana was referring to the fatal Duma firebombing in July, in which three members of the Palestinian Dawabsha family were killed.

“And when a young girl is stabbed to death at a parade of love and tolerance — I am gay,” he concluded, referring to the murder of Shira Banki in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade last summer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Ohana to the Knesset, and said he thinks “he will be an excellent MK and a bridge between the various elements of the public.” Alluding to Ohana’s sexual orientation, he added that he was “proud” to have him in parliament.

Ohana replaced Shalom, the erstwhile interior minister, in the Knesset after the longtime lawmaker resigned last week in the wake of over a dozen sexual harassment complaints.

Ohana is a lawyer by training, who is also a major in the reserves and a veteran of the Shin Bet domestic security service.

Read: Likud taps its first openly gay MK to replace Shalom

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