Saturday, November 16, 2002

Jerusalem council torn over gay member

The appointment of a gay man, an Arab, and a Conservative rabbi to the Jerusalem city council has been blocked by Mayor Ehud Olmert and Israel's Interior Ministry.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox Shas party pressured the ministry and the mayor. The three were appointed by the Jerusalem Now party.

The party says it will take the issue to the Supreme Court.

Three Jerusalem Now councilors resigned, saying they wanted their seats to go to Jerry Levinson, a gay leader; Rabbi David Lazar, representing the non-Orthodox Jewish communities; and Osama Sa'adiah, an Israeli Arab lawyer living in Jerusalem.

Approving council appointees is normally a formality, but Shas has begun its campaign for the national elections in January based on a rigidly conservative religious and social platform. Olmert, meanwhile, is said to be angling for a ministerial post in a future center-right Likud-dominated government.

According to city bylaws, the Interior Ministry is responsible only for verifying that the candidates are residents of the city and have no criminal record, and is to respond "as quickly as possible." But the ministry has shown no signs of moving on what is normally a pro-forma approval procedure. City council seats in Israel are unpaid positions.

Jerusalem Now, a splinter group of the leftist Meretz party, was founded in 1998 as a liberal alternative to the ultra-Orthodox parties that hold sway in the city.