Israel: President Retracts Homophobic Remarks But Falls Short of a Full Apology

On December 20th, the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman, made a series of homophobic remarks about lesbians and gay men in response to a question by a high school student at the Reali School in Haifa, where the President was speaking. Weizman said that he found gays and lesbians "disgusting".

Weizman called for legal steps to determine the status of homosexuals and lesbians and said it was up to society not to encourage this phenomenon. In the past, he noted, homosexuals were considered a security risk. Weizman expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and concern that homosexuality has become "nice."

The response to Weizman's comments was swift. Member of the Knesset (MK) Yael Dayan immediately called upon Weizman to apologize for his remarks, stating Weizman had engaged in incitement against an entire group in Israeli society. MK Naomi Hazan called for his resignation. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel also condemned the president's remarks and said that, as president, he has a responsibility to work for the dignity of all persons in Israel. It is important to note that while the office of the Presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial one, the head of state is seen as a unifying force in the country. The World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations sent a letter to Weizman expressing their concern over his remarks, urging him to retract his statements and apologize.

On the day following Weizman's remarks, a group of over 500 people gathered outside Weizman's Jerusalem home to protest his homophobic statements. Chants of "Big mouth, small head" and "Weizman homophobe" were heard throughout the crowd.

On December 23rd after an hour long meeting with members of the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights in Israel and various Ministers of the Knesset, the President's bureau chief Arye Shumer released the following statement to the press:

"The president sees legislation which discriminates as undermining the foundations of democracy, the rules of natural justice, and the dignity and freedom of man, and he has no intention of encouraging legislation which leads to discrimination between citizens of the state regardless of origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. The president says that any deed or expression in which people are publicly humiliated - or deeds which can be interpreted as such - should be regretted," the statement continued. "The dignity, rights, and well-being of all the citizens of Israel must be upheld."

The President did not the press directly following the meeting and many of the meeting participants, while satisfied with the outcome, believe it to be only a first step. MK Hazan said at the end of the meeting that the call for the President's resignation was suspended but she described him as "on probation" for the remainder of his presidency.

Members of the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights request that international activists continue to pressure the Israeli government to honor the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in Israel.

For those wishing to write directly to the President:

President Ezer Weizman
Office of the President
3 Hanassi Street
92188 Jerusalem
ISRAEL
E-mail: ask@israel-info.gov.il

To contact the Society For The Protection Of Personal Rights For Gay Men, Lesbians, And Bisexuals (SPPR) in Israel write to:

"Ha-Agudah"
P.O. Box 37604
Tel Aviv 61375
ISRAEL
Phone: 972-3-6204327 or 972-3-6293681
Fax: 972-3-5252341
E-mail: sppr@netvision.net.il