Israel's LGBT Groups Accuses ultra-Orthodox Mayor of Neglecting Community

Beit Shemesh mayor previously said there were no gay people in his town, adding that the 'Health Ministry or the police have to deal with them.'

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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A participant in Jerusalem's Gay Pride parade, Jerusalem, 2015.
A participant in Jerusalem's Gay Pride parade, Jerusalem, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Beit Shemesh municipality has broken written commitments it made two years ago to carry out activities specifically for the LGBT community.

Among the commitments made by Mayor Moshe Abutbul to the Israel National LGBT Task Force were the funding of a social worker for the gay community in the city and training for the city’s social services personnel, education department and school guidance counsellors. However, nothing has been done.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul.Credit: Michal Fattal

The municipality acknowledged that the promises had not been implemented, saying that they had been “delayed due to personnel changes in the municipality.” It added that it was now in a position to continue the procees, have made new appointments.

Approaches to the municipality by the Israel National LGBT Task Force, known as the Aguda, and Hoshen, the Israeli LGBT Center for Education and Change, have been met with evasive answers, the groups said. For example, a request to set up an in-service training seminar for municipal workers was turned down.

A municipal representative responded that it was impossible to hold the training because of “changes in the city” and a “budget deficit.” Hoshen responded that it would not charge for the seminar, but its offer went unanswered.

Asked during a TV interview in November 2013 whether there were gay people in Beit Shemesh, Mayor Moshe Abutbul responded: “We don’t have such things, the city is holy and pure.” In the same interview, he said that “the Health Ministry or the police have to deal with them.”

Those statements created a storm, resulting in a protest against Abutbul in Beit Shemesh. In response, he called for a meeting with members of the Aguda, asked them not to take part in the protest and pledged action for the gay community.

After the meeting Abutbul issued a statement to the media in which he claimed that his remarks had been misunderstood. “The error in my remarks stemmed from lack of familiarity with the subject and the English term that was used.

“Of course I did not mean to speak ill of this or that population.” Abutbul added that he had learned that it was important for professionals in the municipality “to get to know the LGBT community and understand its needs. That is the reason I have worked to achieve these understandings.”

The Aguda recently threatened to take legal action against the municipality if it didn’t fulfil its commitments. “While our client kept its end of the agreement and did not take part in the protest in Beit Shemesh, the Beit Shemesh municipality systematically broke the agreement and did not fulfil any of its commitments,” The organization’s attornet said.

Aguda director Oded Fried said: “The mayor’s weak apology does not satisfy us,” and demanded the municipality stick to the agreement.

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