WASHINGTON – The mayor of Beit Shemesh is facing blowback from American Jewish groups after calling gays a health problem that needs to be “taken care of.”

“There are no gays in my city, thank God,” Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul told Channel 10 News earlier this week, referring to gays as unholy and impure.

“Expressions of intolerance have no place in Israeli public discourse, especially coming from elected officials,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement on Tuesday, calling on Abutbul to apologize. “We strongly condemn the insensitive and hurtful comments made by Beit Shemesh’s mayor about his city’s LGBT population.”

In a published letter to Abutbul on Monday, leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington asked the mayor to retract his comments, calling them hurtful, offensive and false.

“We are outraged by your comments recently on Channel 10, in which you said there are no homosexuals in your ‘holy and pure’ city,” read the letter.

Washington’s local government has a sister-city relationship with Beit Shemesh.

Jewish and pro-Israel groups in the United States are uniformly supportive of equal rights initiatives for gays, often highlighting shared democratic values between the two nations. B’nai B’rith International, currently fighting for a law on Capitol Hill that will prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace, characterized itself as “a staunch supporter of equality and tolerance” this week.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, whose ministry is responsible for local government, expressed disgust at Abutbul’s statements.

“What the mayor of Beit Shemesh said against gays is dark and outrageous,” Sa’ar wrote on Facebook. “I condemn his words and hope all local authorities will remember this verse from Pirkei Avot [Ethics of Our Fathers 1:11]: Be cautious in your words, for you may be exiled and banished to a place of heresy, and the disciples who follow you there may drink and die, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.”

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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