Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz caused a firestorm of protest Saturday night after stating he believes the highly controversial practice of “gay conversion therapy” - trying to change a gay individual’s sexual orientation - is effective. On Sunday evening, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich took to Twitter to side with Peretz.
Smotrich stated that he sides with Education Minister Rafi Peretz's comments that support conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ community members.
Smotrich wrote that he "stands by" Peretz, claiming that although he does not agree with everything the man says, he is "not prepared to accept a reality in which all 'freedom-of-speech' advocates and liberalism – again prove that they are mainly thoughtful dictators" who attack anyone who "dares to make a statement that challenges the ideology that rules the discourse."
Peretz said that he himself has participated in providing such “treatment” to gay individuals in the past and that his approach is for the person in question “to get to know himself better and then decide” on their sexual orientation.
The Health Ministry said in 2014 there was no scientific evidence that gay conversion, which includes counseling and even electro-shock therapy, is effective and said it can cause harm to those exposed to it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly criticized his education minister for his remarks, and Peretz was assailed by opposition politicians and NGOs many of whom called on the prime minister to fire him.
The chairman of the Israel Association of Psychiatrists underlined in response to the minister’s comments that there is no therapy that can change a person’s sexual orientation.
Speaking during an interview with Channel 12 broadcast Saturday night, Peretz was asked about his attitude LGBTs and specifically his opinion on conversion therapy.
“I think that it is possible to convert [someone’s sexual orientation],” said the education minister when asked about the issue.
“I can tell you that I have deep familiarity on the issue of education, and I have also done it [conversion therapy].”
Asked how he would address an individual who told him he was gay, Peretz said “I would first of all embrace him, then I said let us think, let us learn, let us consider. The goal is that first of all he gets to know himself better and then he can decide.”
Peretz also said in his interview that he would continue the funding for the Israel Gay Youth movement (IGY) but that he could block the group from sending representatives to schools and would have to examine its “messaging” before deciding.
Netanyahu issued a statement saying he had personally spoken with Peretz to convey his criticism.
”The remarks of the Minister of Education regarding the LGBT community are unacceptable and do not reflection the position of the government under my leadership," said Netanyahu.
"I spoke to Rabbi Rafi Peretz this evening and made it clear to him that the Israeli educational system will continue to accept all Jewish children whoever they are and without any difference based on sexual orientation."
Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz said in response that homosexual conversion therapy was a dangerous practice “which causes extremely sever circumstances for youths, including suicide,” saying that the concept was not only irresponsible but endangered people’s lives.
“Rafi Peretz, what are you proud about? That you erased the identity of young men and women? That you caused people to feel that their sexual orientation is a sickness? That they have no place to be who they are and to love who they want?” demanded the Meretz leader, calling on Netanyahu to fire Peretz immediately.
Chairman of the Association of Psychiatrists in Israel Tzvi Fishel said he was “embarrassed and worried” that Israel’s education minister not only spoke out in favor of conversion therapy but had participated in it as well.
Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid said in a brief comment on Twitter that “Until Rafi Peretz undergoes conversion therapy for his benighted and crazy opinions he cannot continue to serve as education minister.”
Labor leader Amir Peretz responded that the education minister's statement was inhumane and that everyone should have a right to love, marry and build a family with whomever they choose.
"In the upcoming election, the people of Israel will convert the Education Ministry out of the hands of the extreme Right," Peretz said.
Peretz later attempted to clarify his controversial statements about gay conversion therapy, saying he did not intend that gay children must be sent to conversion therapy.
"A few clarifications about the interview that was broadcast this evening," Peretz said.
"1. I did not claim that a child must be sent for conversion therapy.
"2. During my years as an educator, I met with students who felt terrible distress about their sexual orientation and chose to use professionals to change their orientation. What I said in the interview came from my personal experiences with those cases.
"3. The education system in Israel under my leadership will continue to accept all children of Israel as they are, regardless of their sexual orientation. That's how I made it clear in the interview."
The comments by Peretz come just a couple days after he had been slammed for comments he made comparing intermarriage to "a second Holocaust."
"We [have] lost six million Jews in this way [due to assimilation] since the Holocaust,” he said.
"I absolutely condemn the remarks by the education minister concerning conversion therapy," Justice Minister Amir Ohana said in response to Peretz. Ohana became the first gay minister in the Knesset in June.
"The Likud government, the national-liberal movement won't give her hand to conversion therapy," stated Ohana. "The serious studies in the world of psychology are united around the position that not only can they not 'convert' the sexual orientation - it's dangerous and can cause pain and suffering to youth and even lead them to suicide."
"Education minister, the youth of the entire State of Israel and yes, also of the national-religious sector, are looking to you," added Ohana. "LGBTQ youth commit suicide three times as often as their percentage of the population. This is a matter of saving lives. Your clarification is important, but not sufficient. Learn the subject in depth, and review it."
On Sunday evening, various Israeli LGBT organizations will protest Peretz's remarks. The protest will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday in front of the Kiryat HaMemshala building in Tel Aviv. Teachers, educators, students and parents from throughout the country will take part in the protest, as well as members of the LGBT community who went through "conversion therapy."
Former Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni wrote on Twitter, "We cried out that the Netanyahu government is erasing the equality from the Declaration of Independence, and now we have received it directly from the Minister of Education."
"Conversion treatments and an apartheid state. Both sides of the same coin of injustice. Those who condemn the one and remain silent in front of the other will accept both. Such state will be neither Jewish nor democratic," Livni concluded.
Labor leader Amir Peretz added on Sunday morning, "We are dealing with the man who is tasked with teaching our children patience and accepting the other."
Amir Peretz also added, "And here we all thought that Peretz is the moderate part of the United Right."
Former Likud MK Yehuda Glick raised a question on Twitter asking, "Why is it that up until 5 years ago gay people could demand recognition in conversion therapies, while today an education minister, who claims to have personal experience in such treatments, cannot think they are legitimate, could there be a forcing of opinions in Israel?"
Gil Hoffman and Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.
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