While speaking with a local news station Friday, ultra-Orthodox Abutbul was asked about the presence of gay people in his city. He replied: “We have no such things… Thank God this city is holy and pure.” Beit Shemesh, he added, is like a “garden of Eden.”
He then suggested that all gay people should be rounded up and handed over to to the Health Ministry and the police so they can “take care of them.”
Rabbi Yitzhak Hagar, a Beit Shemesh resident, was also interviewed for the segment. He told the reporter that when it comes to gay people, “the central problem is a psychological problem, which needs treatment… In our community the problem is treated very, very well.”
Shortly after the interview, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, whose city shares a sister-city relationship with Beit Shemesh, sent Abutbul a letter that read:
“Mr. Mayor, gays and lesbians are neither sick nor criminal. Your comments hurt and offend many in your community, in Israel and in the Diaspora, and we urge you to immediately retract them… The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has made it clear that in our community, we welcome people of all abilities, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs.”
LGBT activists in Beit Shemesh also responded. On Sunday they released a statement saying: “The mayor of Beit Shemesh says that there are no gays in his city. He’s asked the police to deal with this phenomenon. Well, we talked to the police, and they’ll deal with us – with a pride parade that we will hold this upcoming Thursday.”
In response to the backlash, Abutbul did a follow-up interview with a local radio station, where he kinda sorta dug himself into an even deeper hole.
When asked about his statements regarding gay people, the mayor awkwardly responded that he had misunderstood the term “gays,” thinking it meant “pedophiles.”
Even if it had been a misunderstanding, the Jewish Press points out that Abutbul’s original claims that the city was “holy and pure” would not be true. The Beit Shemesh Child Protection Center says they have received approximately 100 reports of child abuse so far in 2013, of which over 85% are allegations of child sexual abuse.
Abutbul was reelected as mayor last month. In addition to coming under fire for his recent comments made about gay people, he is also facing an investigation over alleged voter fraud.
Sounds like there might be a cold front hitting the garden of Eden.