Weizman adds gays to list of Israelis he has insulted


REJECTING calls for his resignation, Israel's President Ezer Weizman yesterday met representatives of a community he says he regards as "abnormal" homosexuals and lesbians.

The president, whose largely ceremonial office is intended mainly to unite the nation, caused a furore this weekend by telling high school students he found public acceptance of homosexuality distasteful, that the phenomenon of people coming "out of the closet" was "weird," and that he would oppose legislation permitting same sex marriages.

He did not like, he said, "a man who wants to be a woman or a woman who wants to be a man."

Much of Mr Weizman's Haifa school audience applauded these remarks, but several liberal Knesset members, accusing him of taking Israel back into the Dark Ages, demanded that he resign or at least issue a public apology.

Backing the resignation call, the Society for the Protection of Individual Rights estimated that 10 per cent of the Israeli population is homosexual or lesbian, and noted pointedly that its ranks even included fighter pilots a sardonic reference to Mr Weizman former military profession. "If he doesn't like those figures," said the Mr Avi Sofer, "he should buzz off home."

Far from doing so, however, Mr Weizman is understood to have informed the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, that he would like a second five year stint when his current terms ends in 1998.

In marked contrast to his uncle, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, Mr Weizman has courted controversy almost non-stop since taking office in 1993. He reportedly told Alice Miller, who fought a lengthy legal battle to become the first woman accepted into pilot training school "Missy, have you ever heard of a woman conducting an orchestra or a man darning socks?"

He managed to offend two communities with a single comment when saying, of Israel's Arab citizens, that "they breed like the ultra-Orthodox Jews".

Most significantly, he has levelled intermittent criticisms at the Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu governments over their handling of the peace process urging, the first two to suspend negotiations and telling Mr Netanyahu to speed up talks.

Mr Weizman's spokesman said yesterday that the president had no intention of issuing an apology, and that he could not understand what all the fuss was about.