Jerusalem’s top rabbi says ‘homosexuality punishable by death,’ faces backlash

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar  © Stringer
Israeli politicians and LGBT activists have called for the resignation of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar after the high-ranked cleric said that homosexuality was punishable by death.

“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.

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“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.”

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However, he condemned the murder of a teenager at the 2015 parade, saying that the act couldn’t be justified.