Bar-Ilan Spokesman Apologizes for Referring to Pedophiles in Connection With LGBT Event

Knesset's gay rights forum condemns university's refusal to hold gay pride event, saying it 'reeks of homophobia.'

Tomer Appelbaum

Bar-Ilan University found itself under fire on Wednesday after refusing a student group's request to hold an LGBT pride event. Instead, the university proposed holding a closed-door academic panel.

The head of Bar-Ilan's LGBT Forum, Omer Makhlouf, claims that the university's dean of students, Professor Uri Nir, suggested in a meeting  "that the student group hold a respectable event that would include different speakers, like psychologists and rabbis, who could offer help to the participants.”

Thirty-two Knesset members who are part of a gay rights forum condemned the university's decision as they convened on Wednesday. In a statement, the MKs said that Bar-Ilan University's refusal to hold the event "reeks of homophobia."

Earlier Wednesday, the university's speaker, Haim Zisowitz, found himself in hot water after saying such an event could not be held due to the university's religious character, as it would be a violation of Jewish law. In the same conversation with Haaretz, he referred to pedophiles holding an event at an academic institution, but then stressed that he does not intend to compare gays with pedophiles.

Zisowitz later apologized in a Facebook post for using pedophilia as an example of a crime that no university could condone, saying that in context it was “stupid.”

In his clarifying statement, he referred to his earlier remark, when he "said that a happening in support of a violation of halakha at a religious university would be like a happening in support of a crime at any university."

“Here I made a mistake,” Zisowitz continued. “As an example of a crime, I mentioned pedophilia. I could have used as an example (in the spirit of the times) illegal gambling or drug use. For some reason, I chose pedophilia.

“The example I gave of a legal violation was stupid in this context. I apologize for using it. But to anyone who would have heard the conversation it would be clear that I was not comparing.”

The Zionist Union faction demanded that Education Minister Naftali Bennett intervene and allow the event to take place.

"If this were a policy that banned all public events, this refusal would be understandable," Faction Chairwoman Merav Michaeli wrote in a letter to Bennett. "However, we know that there is no such policy. In fact, the opposite is true. The university holds many public events with various social and political themes."

The letter said that the decision was illegal and constituted "severe discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation."

Netanyahu on Wednesday issued a message for the LGBT community, saying that "the struggle to be recognized as equal is a lengthy struggle, and there is still a way to go."

"I am proud that Israel is one of the most open countries the world when it comes to the gay community, and that the conversation is becoming more accepting and more respectful each year," he said.