The National Union of Israeli Students slammed the decision of Bar-Ilan University not to allow public celebrations of Gay Pride Month on campus.
The union released an angry statement on Tuesday evening, after a meeting between Omer Machluf, chairman of the “pride” student cell, and Prof. Uri Nir, dean of students.
According to the statement, Nir called Machluf in for a meeting to discuss the proposal to host Gay Pride celebrations at the Ramat Gan campus later this month.
The proposal, prepared by Machluf, whose student group acts under the auspices of the National Union of Israeli Students and the Association for LGBT, requested use of the central public area at the university, which is used for all major student group events.
The event, planned for June 22, was designed with the Orthodox sensitivities of many of the students at the university in mind, the union said in its statement, and was intended to promote awareness and provide information about the gay community, a community to which “for many of the students, the university is the one of the only stations in the course of their lives where they can be exposed in an unmediated way to the LGBT community.”
At the meeting, Nir said that the decision, which had been authorized by both the president of the university and the administration, was not to allow any Gay Pride events in public areas of the university, not to allow any organizations to come to the events, and not to allow any flyers to be handed out.
The university said it would allow for an academic panel discussion to take place in a closed auditorium, where individuals – but not representatives of organizations – who were pre-approved by the university could speak. No flyers are to be handed out at the panel discussion.
Machluf, in his statement, spoke about the importance of hosting a public event, “as there is a large group on campus of students who belong to the gay community but are at various stages of accepting their sexual identity and coming out of the closet, so they do not attend the regular meetings of the student group and will also not attend a segregated event held in a closed hall.”
Machluf went on to say Nir suggested that the panel should include psychologists and rabbis who could offer “assistance” to the participants.
The university responded to the issue on Wednesday, explaining that, due to the Orthodox character of the university and the fact that the events are not of an academic or student nature, the university would approve only hosting a symposium or academic panel discussion on issues relevant to the gay community.
The university denied it had suggested bringing rabbis or psychologists to offer assistance to participants; rather it had offered assistance in organizing the event.
In response to this exchange, MK Miki Rosenthal of the Zionist Union called for an emergency discussion in the Knesset, stating: “It cannot be that an academic institution in the State of Israel will promote homophobic policies. The issue demands immediate investigation, which is why I called for an emergency discussion in the Knesset plenum today.”
MK Stav Shaffir, also from the Zionist Union, responded to the issue during a meeting of the Gay Pride Caucus in the Knesset on Wednesday morning. It is “an unbelievable chutzpah” that an academic institution would make this decision, she said.
She called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) to intervene in the university’s decision and ensure that it retracts its statements immediately and publicly.
Shaffir went as far as to suggest that government funding for the university should be reconsidered if the university does not “respect the democratic values and freedom of expression as set by the law.”
Daniel Jonas, chairman of Havruta, one of Israel’s handful of LGBT Orthodox societies, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday: “We are amazed. Not in a good way.”
Jonas quoted Bar-Ilan University spokesman Haim Zisovich, who said in an interview with Haaretz, “By contrast, don’t get me wrong, but if an organization comes and says ‘We want and believe in pedophilia, we want to legalize sexual relations with minors, and we want to host an event...’” Jonas said it was shocking to hear “such disgusting words” from the spokesman of a university, comparing the gay community to pedophiles.
He pointed out the difficulties faced by Orthodox individuals who want to be part of both the Orthodox community and “be true to themselves.” “They feel they have nowhere to turn,” he said.
Havruta was one of the organizations invited to take part in the events planned by Machluf’s organization. “They are not just silencing us, they are concealing whole groups of students,” he said of the university’s decision not to permit the event to take place.
Jonas invited the university administration to call in Havruta representatives and hear from them what it is like to live in both the gay and Orthodox world and deal with the difficulties they face.
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