The recently reelected mayor of Beit Shemesh, Israel, claims there are no gay people in his city, which he describes as "holy and pure."
Mayor Moshe Abutbul, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, made the assertion Friday in a television interview, The Times of Israel reports. When an interviewer for Channel 10 asked him about gays in his city, Abutbul said, "We have no such things. ... Thank God this city is holy and pure." He also said it was up to police and public health officials to "take care of" LGBT people.
In the same broadcast, a gay resident of Beit Shemesh, a city of about 75,000 located west of Jerusalem, said there are actually numerous LGBT citizens there. And in a separate interview, Beit Shemesh native Elinor Sidi, who now heads the Jerusalem Open House, an LGBT organization, lamented the "hatred, ignorance, homophobia, and racism" that she says have grown in Beit Shemesh as many ultra-Orthodox Jews have moved there in the past few years.
"I can only regret the change the city has undergone in recent years," Sidi told Ynet News. She said LGBT people were present in Beit Shemesh "before Abutbul," whose "Judaism is not the Judaism I was raised on."
Abutbul narrowly won reelection last month over a secular opponent. Beit Shemesh has lately seen frequent conflicts between the ultra-Orthodox and more liberal residents, according to the Times. In 2011 an 8-year-old girl was harassed by ultra-Orthodox men as she walked to school, and there have been incidents of ultra-Orthodox men attempting to make women passengers move to the back of city buses.