Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich lashed out at MK Stav Shaffir on Monday, calling her “stupid,” after the opposition lawmaker took to Twitter to blame members of the religious right for the recent stabbing of a LGBTQ teen in Tel Aviv.
“The knife that stabbed a 16-year-old boy this week is the same knife that stabbed Maya in 2018, the same knife that murdered Shira at the Gay Pride parade,” tweeted Shaffir, referring to an assault on trans woman Maya Hadad last year and to Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl who was killed in 2015 during an attack on participants in the Jerusalem gay pride march.
“This hatred is kindled by rabbis, ministers and MKs,” she said. “[It is a] hatred that turns the proud community into citizens who cannot walk safely in Israel. No more.”
In response, Smotrich, who has previously boasted of being a “proud homophobe” and once organized a counter-protest to the Jerusalem gay pride march featuring farm animals, tweeted that Shaffir was “stupid” and “a nothing” with “no achievements in politics” who “does not stop spreading hate.”
The liberal politician, he continued, belongs to a faction “that has built itself on sowing strife and conflict between populations.”
In another tweet several hours later, Smotrich took back the word “stupid,” saying he was “upset” when he used it and was wrong to do so. Still, he doubled down on his criticism of Shaffir, asserting that her tweet was “calculated and full of malice and hate,” and calling her “a woman whose sole role [as a politician] is sowing strife.”
The exchange was prompted by the stabbing of a 16-year-old boy from the Arab city of Tamra on Friday outside Tel Aviv’s Beit Dror house, where he had moved to escape family pressures to adopt a religious lifestyle.
It also follows weeks of heated rhetoric surrounding the issue of LGBTQ people’s place in Israeli society, with a number of prominent figures on the right criticizing the growing acceptance of alternative lifestyles in the Jewish state.
Last Tuesday, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar generated controversy when he said that homosexuality is a “wild lust” that can be overcome with simple fear of God. “There are people who call themselves religious who also fell into that trap,” Amar told his audience in reference to gay people. “They aren’t religious. It would be better if they cast off their kippah and Shabbat [observance] and show their true faces.
Amar, a former chief rabbi of Israel, has also previously stated that homosexuality is an “abomination.”
Earlier this month, Education Minister Rafi Peretz, an ordained rabbi who is a member of Smotrich’s URWP political alliance, caused uproar by indicating his support for gay conversion therapy, a controversial process that purports to make gay people heterosexual.
Following the public backlash to Peretz’s remarks, Smotrich came to his defense, said the criticism of his political partner was tantamount to a “lynching.”
“Since not expressing my personal opinion is being interpreted as abandoning Rabbi Rafi to the violent media lynching that he has endured since yesterday, from this moment on I am standing by his side,” Smotrich tweeted at the time.
Peretz later retracted his remarks.
At a march against anti-transgender violence in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Etai Pinkas-Arad, who holds the LGBT portfolio at the Tel Aviv Municipality, told the Kan public broadcaster that Friday’s stabbing at Beit Dror was linked to inflammatory rhetoric against Israel’s gay community.
“When the country is full of inciting billboards, when our religious leaders are willing to sacrifice our blood, and the education minister wants to convert us, then some people are hearing that message and are taking action,” he said.