Religious university clamps down on gay pride event
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Religious university clamps down on gay pride event

Students say deacon suggested symposium including rabbis and psychologists to offer 'help' for participants

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People marching at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem on September 18, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
People marching at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem on September 18, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

An Israeli university that maintains a religious ethos was accused on Wednesday of stifling plans by students to hold an event marking gay pride month after it instead suggested a cloistered symposium including rabbis and psychologists who could also “offer the participants help.”

Meanwhile, a university spokesperson suggested that allowing a public LGBT event to go ahead was comparable to permitting an event promoting pedophilia.

Bar-Ilan University drew condemnation from the National Student Union after its local gay chapter claimed the academic body had blocked plans to hold a public event in the campus including other gay organizations on June 22.

“Given that fact that the gay chapter in Bar Ilan includes all the complex components of humanity at the institution and acts in considerate and non-provocative ways, we don’t see any reason that they shouldn’t mark gay month, and of course [we] support their actions,” student union head Gilad Arditi told Army Radio.

Representatives of the university’s administration met with the chapter’s leadership to discuss alternatives for the event. Student Omer Mahluf said students dean Professor Uri Nir had suggested the group’s 90 members hold “a respectful meeting in which there are various speakers, such as psychologists and rabbis, who can offer the participants help.”

“The university didn’t agree to any compromise,” Mahluf said. “The whole point of the event is to allow some sort of dialogue that we feel is very important, especially after the last elections that created some sort of feeling of hostility between the religious community and the LGBT community.”

He may have been referring to a video produced by the Jewish Home party and the religious news site Kipa and released ahead of the party’s primaries in January 2015, in which a majority of candidates came out flatly against Israel recognizing same-sex marriages, saying it went against Jewish values and normative principles. The party went on to win nine Knesset seats in the March elections.

The video elicited harsh criticism from the gay community and left-wing politicians, who blasted party members for what they termed “homophobic” statements and demanded an apology.

However, Bar-Ilan university rejected the accusations and said it opposed the public event as it had no academic content.

“Taking into consideration the religious character of the university, in light of the fact that the event that the students requested to hold was not connected to academic or student activities, the administration notified the students that it will allow an event that has an academic nature in one of the campus halls, a symposium or panel that deals with the relevant subjects for the gay community,” the university said in a statement. “The university offered the students help with organizing the event and finding participants and speakers. Unfortunately, the organizers chose, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to misrepresent the university’s offer to help organize the event.”

According to a report in the Haarez news site, university spokesperson Haim Zisowitz explained that homosexual acts are against halacha — traditional Jews laws — and that as a religious institution, the university couldn’t appear to condone such activities.

“The university has a religious character, and the subject of same-sex relationships is halachically forbidden for men, a clear halachic prohibition,” he said. “Therefore, you can’t allow in a religious university a call to commit an act that transgresses a halachic prohibition.”

To hold such an event, he continued, “is to say that we are in favor — without making a comparison, and don’t get me wrong — but a group that says, ‘We want and believe in pedophilia, in permitting sex with minors, and we want to have a happening’ — every call to break the law is a problem and those are the laws of the Torah.”

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