Israeli president’s remarks incur anger of gay community

JERUSALEM, Dec. 22 (JTA) — Israel’s outspoken president has agreed to meet with representatives of the homosexual community after anti-gay remarks he made to Israeli students sparked a public controversy. Speaking last Friday at Haifa’s Reali High School, Weizman said he considered homosexuality abnormal. “I like it when a man wants to be a man and a woman wants to be a woman,” Weizman told the packed auditorium. “I personally view homosexuality as something negative. The question is how to deal with this phenomena, this social anomaly.” His remarks were met with applause and some laughter from the students. The comments also prompted calls for his resignation from civil rights activists and liberal Knesset members. Some 300 people demonstrated outside the president’s residence Saturday night, demanding that Weizman resign. “This president has managed to insult just about every sector in Israel,” said Meretz Knesset member Naomi Hazan. Although Weizman agreed to meet this week with representatives from Israel’s gay community, a spokesman for the president said he would not retract his statements. The World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations demanded that Weizman retract his remarks and apologize. “That there are gay and lesbian Jews is a reality,” Jack Gilbert, president of the congress wrote in a letter to Weizman. “Your dehumanizing comments on Friday could act to encourage further violence.” The controversy comes days after Weizman informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would seek another term. Weizman, whose current term ends in May 1998, told the premier that he plans to run again in an effort to preserve national unity as Israel travels the rocky road to peace with its Arab neighbors. The nephew of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, he took office in 1993 after serving in the military and holding political office for 15 years. Social activists warned this week that Weizman’s remarks at the high school would hurt efforts to end discrimination and prejudice against homosexuals and lesbians. “The president’s sexual and social preferences don’t interest me. Nor am I interested in what he likes or doesn’t like,” said Labor Knesset member Yael Dayan. “In Israel, under law, homosexuals and lesbians are equal in all matters. The president’s remarks will cause a regression, including incitement against an entire community.” Israel’s Chief Sephardi rabbi, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, agreed with Weizman. “Homosexuality is not normal. It’s not wanted and it’s not good. Period,” he told reporters.

NEXT STORY