Police were called to investigate the colorful new additions to Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s office on Saturday. After responding to the call, they said they would question the left-wing Meretz party’s Hebrew University branch, after the group took responsibility for the stunt in a tweet, according to media cited by the Times of Israel.
In addition to a photo of the “decorations,” the party’s tweet included a message for Amar which read: “May you have a week of love, pride and full of acceptance of the other.”
The move came after Amar told Israel Hayom newspaper last week that “there is no such thing as having understanding or tolerance for this [homosexuality],” in remarks that infuriated many across Jerusalem and beyond.
“I call on them, in warm and friendly language, to leave their bad path. The Torah has forbidden [homosexuality] and calls it an abomination,” Amar said.
“This is an abomination. The Torah says it is punishable by death. It is in the first rank of severe offenses,” he added.
He dismissed the notion that a person may have a natural homosexual inclination as “nonsense,” saying “there are desires and a person can overcome it if he wants, like all other desires.”
The chief rabbi’s comments have been condemned by members of Israel’s LGBT community and its supporters, with representatives of the Yerushalmim Movement – a group aimed at making Jerusalem a more pluralistic and inclusive city – demonstrating outside the offices of the Jerusalem Rabbinate on Sunday, along with other activists.
The protest was met with a counter-demonstration from United Jerusalem, whose members hit the streets to “defend the honor of the Torah and the honor of the rabbi,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
At least two people have filed complaints with police over Amar’s remarks, calling them incitement to bigotry, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
The head of Hebrew University’s Meretz branch, Gilad Bar-on, has called for Amar to retract his statements.
“The blood-soaked statements of Rabbi Amar are unacceptable to us,” Bar-on told Israel’s Channel 2. “As the people who are paying his wages we demand that Rabbi Amar take it back.”
His comments were also slammed by members of the Knesset and the Jerusalem City Council, many of whom supported Amar in his election to the post.
Several Knesset members wrote in a letter that Amar is “exploiting his position” as a public figure, accusing him of incitement.
“A public figure who endangers the safety of Israeli citizens by discrimination and incitement should be fired from their position immediately,” they wrote.
Amar has served as Jerusalem’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi since 2014. Prior to that, he served as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 2003 to 2013.
Jerusalem’s top rabbi says ‘homosexuality punishable by death,’ faces backlash
“This is a cult of abomination, this is clear,” Amar said when asked of his attitude toward homosexuality in an interview with Yisrael Hayom newspaper, cited by Times of Israel.
“This is an abomination. The Torah says it is punishable by death. It is in the first rank of severe offenses,” he said.
Amar added that he didn’t believe in some people having a homosexual orientation, calling such claims “nonsense.”
“There are desires and a person can overcome it if he wants, like all other desire,” Jerusalem’s top rabbi said.
After the release of extracts from Amar interview on Thursday, an LGBT activist, Shirley Kleinman, filed a complaint to the police, blaming the cleric for incitement to murder.
“Let’s try and ensure that this man will not remain in his key public position,” Kleinman wrote on her Facebook page, as cited by The Jerusalem Post.
“This is not an anti-religious issue, I have nothing against religion, every person shall live in accordance with their faith. I do have an interest to protect my rights and your rights to live, and [to live with] dignity,” she said.
The call for Amar’s resignation was backed by Knesset members Yael German and Meirav Michaeli, who wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister David Azoulay on the issue.
The parliamentarians from Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union stated that the chief rabbi was “exploiting his position” as religious authority “for a campaign of dangerous incitement against a large public group in Israel.”
“A public figure who endangers the safety of Israeli citizens by discrimination and incitement should be fired from their position immediately,” German and Michaeli said in a letter.
Jerusalem City Council member Laura Wharton addressed Amar directly, calling on him to retract on his anti-LGBT statements.
“Your comments are gross incitement, and just one year after the murder of Shira Banki [at the 2015 Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade], I would have expected that you would know they are destructive of our society,” The Jerusalem Post cited Wharton as saying.
It’s not the first time Jerusalem’s top rabbi has found himself in hot water after his controversial remarks on the LGBT community.
Last year, Amar was criticized for suggesting that most people were “disgusted” by homosexuality and labeling Jerusalem’s gay pride parade “an embarrassing phenomenon.”
However, he condemned the murder of a teenager at the 2015 parade, saying that the act couldn’t be justified.