Education Minister Shai Piron.
(photo credit: MUKI SCHWARTZ)
Education Minister Shai Piron issued another apology on Sunday.
“I am convinced with great pain that my statements were unfortunate,” he said during a phone interview to a Channel 10 TV morning show.
“The task of deciding who is a family and who is not does not fall on me,” he added.
Piron, an Orthodox rabbi who holds the No. 2 slot on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party list, insisted that during his time as education minister he has worked hard to promote the rights of the gay and lesbian community – something he said had never been done before. He added that throughout his career he has tried to act as a “bridge” between the LGBT and the religious communities.
The education minister issued the apology following backlash from political leaders and the LGBT community for his interview last Thursday with Israel National News, in which he said “it was the right of the Jewish state, perhaps even its obligation, to tell same-sex couples that ‘this is not a family.’” He made these remarks to a religious newspaper that asked whether he agreed with his party’s secular agenda. Piron replied that he believes it is necessary to distinguish between issues relating to state and religion and issues relating to human rights is.
“Take for example civil marriage bill,” he said, “Perhaps we should change the name to ‘civil partnership’ or to some other term that would not connote [traditional] couples or families,” adding, “I think that every person needs to receive full economic rights and to build their life according to their worldview.” Piron has maintained that he made these remarks in an attempt to bring the religious sector on board with the civil-marriage bill, and they were taken out of context.
Despite the education minister’s apology on Sunday, LGBT community leaders said this was too little, too late.
“The feeble apology of Shai Piron is inadequate in every way,” said MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), chairman of the Knesset Gay Pride Lobby on Sunday, “Piron is the education minister and his comments affect the entire system.
“Students in the education system, children of gay families, gay teachers, and gay parents, all were hurt by the statement of the man who is in charge of education in Israel,” he said.
Horowitz dismissed the apology and said the only real test is in the minister’s actions of support for gay and lesbian community, “a test Piron has so far failed.”
He said the only acceptable answer to Piron’s comments would be the promotion of legal recognition of all types of families and provision to allow civil marriages.
In a post on her Facebook page on Saturday, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called on Piron to resign and said that “no apology will help. The damage is done. The message has been delivered.”
A Facebook page calling on Shai Piron “to apologize to the LGBT community and resign” garnered some 800 likes. In addition, some 250 people registered for an event to protest outside the Knesset on Monday.
The Israel Gay Youth Organization also responded, issuing an open letter to Piron on its Facebook page Sunday. The organization said that Piron’s comments were doubly troubling because they gave legitimacy to “hate, violence, and brutality.”
It invited Piron to sit down with families, educators and students from the LGBT community.
They wrote, “The other is us. We are stretching out our hand to you.”
Piron issued an initial apology on Facebook on the same day the interview was published, though he did not retract his statements nor quiet the backlash received over the weekend.
“I gave an interview to Besheva [Israel National News] newspaper over the issue of the tensions that exist between religion and state relating to the rights of the gay community,” Piron wrote.
“One may certainly disagree with how I phrased my remarks. Nonetheless, my statements reflect the reality in Israel and the difficulties of the religious community in coping with the changes to family structure.
“Every day I try to build bridges between various groups and constituencies,” Piron wrote.
“The first stage of building that bridge is acceptance and understanding. I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should be allowed recognition as a couple. I apologize for my statements if they were misinterpreted and if they caused pain.”