Heated Argument Breaks Out in Haifa Council Meeting Over Gay Pride Flags

In response to Pride flags being brought into meeting, religious party representative returns with large Israeli flag and shirt reading 'honor thy father and mother'

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Yossi Shalom during the council meeting in Haifa, August 6, 2019.
Yossi Shalom during the council meeting in Haifa, August 6, 2019. Credit: Rami Chelouche

A heated argument in the Haifa city council broke out Tuesday after Council Member Yossi Shalom brought Gay Pride flags into the meeting.

Yoav Ramati, who represents the religious party Habayit Hayehudi, walked out of the room and returned carrying a large Israeli flag and wearing a T-shirt that read “Honor thy father and mother.” Arguments among the council members then broke out, ending the meeting.

As a result, Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem — who did not attend the meeting — announced an end to the live broadcast of council meetings, “except on critical issues we choose to present to the public, and until a proper culture of debate is restored to the city council.”

Shalom brought the flags into the meeting to protest Kalisch Rotem’s response to a complaint about a city librarian who placed a miniature Gay Pride flag on her desk at work last month. “We must be very sensitive about expressing personal opinions in workplaces that provide service to the public,” the mayor said in response to the complaint.

>> Read more: Israel's education minister now says he opposes gay 'conversion therapy' ■ Porn, pain and guilt: Religious homosexual Israelis recount 'conversion therapy' ■ The Mideast's Stonewall? From Iraq to Morocco, the fight for LGBTQ rights rages on 

Yoav Ramati during the council meeting, August 6, 2019. Credit: Rami Chelouche

Writing on Facebook after the meeting, Kalisch Rotem said that elected officials, in contrast to public servants, can and even should wave the flags that reflect their identities. “Only one thing is impermissible in my eyes - disrespect to the point of violence and losing one’s cool. The violation of the city council’s boundaries as at yesterday’s meeting strips it of all meaning.”

Ramati, who before last year’s local elections proposed drawing up lists of Jewish merchants in a Haifa open-air market as to boost business of Jewish shops, told Haaretz that he wasn’t opposed to rainbow flags but that his flag was the national flag. “I’ve always said that the LGBT people aren’t willing to listen to a different opinion and that they sow terror,” Ramati told Haaretz in an interview.

“A city council member who supports the cabinet minister for conversion therapy and the minister of the ‘beast parade,’” referring to Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, “came with a shirt that said ‘there’s only one kind of family,’” Shalom told Haaretz, adding, “Presumably the shirt saying “Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God’ was in the wash.”

Shalom added that Acting Mayor Nahshon Tzuk, who conducted the meeting, “demonstrated solidarity with the community and adjourned the meeting.”

City council member Naama Lazimi told Haaretz that Ramati “represents everything that is bad about elected officials,” saying he exploited his coalition partners in the city government in his quest “to become the big fish in the small pond of benighted views.”