Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar rebuked the mayor of Beit Shemesh Tuesday over a homophobic comment he made last week.
“I denounce and condemn this statement, which represents an outrageous, backwards perception,” Sa’ar said at a conference of Israeli mayors. “As mayors, you are public leaders elected directly by the people. This requires a responsible approach in your actions and speech.”
The mayor, Moshe Abutbul, asserted Friday that there were no homosexuals in his “holy and pure” city and suggested that if there were, it was the responsibility of the Health Ministry and the police to “take care of them.”
He later claimed that he had been referring to pedophiles rather than people with homosexual tendencies.
Abutbul is currently embroiled in a scandal stemming from an investigation into voter fraud during last month’s municipal elections.
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.