Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, came under fire Thursday, a day after he appeared to tell the Knesset that a recent wave of coronavirus infections was caused by tens of thousands of people partying at the Tel Aviv gay pride parade in June.
Smotrich attacked the government over its virus policy amid talk of a possible lockdown in September, during the Jewish holiday season, to stem the spread of the highly infections Delta variant.
“There was a tremendous infection party that I think started this wave,” he said in a Wednesday Knesset speech. “No one has the courage to say this because it isn’t politically correct, but the pride parade marked the start of this outbreak.”
Smotrich went on to note that while the government was still allowing Israelis to vacation abroad despite rising infections in many popular destinations, it was considering a lockdown that would have a profound impact on religious events during the holiday period.
Responding on Thursday, Health Ministry Nitzan Horowitz tweeted, “If you have forgotten what the dangerous blend of ignorance, populism, frustration and hatred looks like, then Smotrich gave a great reminder yesterday.”
Horowitz, who is gay, went on to note wryly that “in contrast to remarks by the expert [Smotrich], there is no connection between the outbreak of the Delta variant and the gay pride march.”
“The man who built a career on homophobia doesn’t miss a chance to spread hate,” Horowitz wrote.
Smotrich has a history of making provocative remarks about the gay community.
In May, he said he has “a problem with LGBT culture” and compared gay marriage to incest. Smotrich, who has served in the Knesset since 2015, rose to national prominence almost a decade earlier when he organized a “beasts parade” in protest of LGBT pride. He later apologized for his involvement.
The Health Ministry backed up Horowitz in a statement clarifying that the ongoing outbreak was caused by travelers who returned from abroad and did not quarantine as required.
It noted that the outbreak began in the cities of Binyamina and Modiin “with no connection to the pride parade.”
Smotrich, in response to reports about his remarks, accused Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his political adviser Moshe Klughaft of spreading an “edited” video of his address to the plenum.
He tweeted that it was an attempt “to divert attention from the real failure of Bennett and to demonize his political opponents.”
Smotrich clarified that his citing of the gay pride march as the cause of the wave was due to it being a large event, not the fact that it was staged by the LGBT community.
“No matter the purpose, a mass gathering spreads the coronavirus. What does make a difference is the lack of courage and leadership by Bennett to make unpopular decisions,” he wrote.