Gay conversion therapy’s a problem, but apartheid Israel is just fine - analysis

In classic Netanyahu style, he allowed Peretz’ words on the lack of Palestinian voting rights to hang in the air over the weekend, like a piece of laundry one forgot to take down.

By
July 17, 2019 01:50
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid at Edmonton Pride Parade 2011

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid at Edmonton Pride Parade 2011. (photo credit: KURT BAUSCHARDT/FLICKR)

“I do not know how to explain an education minister who talks about conversion therapy, who opposes joint [IDF] service for men and women or who honesty says he has no problem with apartheid,” MK Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White Party, tweeted on Monday. “For the first time since I can remember, the State of Israel has a government that I am ashamed of.”

Lapid’s sharply worded statement was one of a number of reactions to the ease with which Education Minister Rabbi Rafael “Rafi” Peretz spoke over the weekend about not giving West Bank Palestinians voting rights.

While it’s good that Lapid mentioned apartheid, the danger of an Israeli apartheid state was not the top reason – or even the second reason – that Lapid was ashamed of the government.

Perhaps he placed it third according to the order as they appeared in the Channel 12 interview with Dana Weiss.

Peretz spoke first about supporting gay conversion therapy, and only then was he quizzed about voting rights.

But it would be hard to chalk up to chronology the relatively minor reaction Peretz’s words about voting rights received, compared with the tsunami of comments regarding conversion therapy, including a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distancing himself from the fledgling education minister.

In a country with an outwardly gay justice minister and a Tourism Ministry that has capitalized on “gay Israel” as a selling point, favoring something as controversial as gay conversion therapy is an easy way to generate an uproar that few politicians want to be caught in.

But Israel is also a country whose Declaration of Independence pledges to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

So theoretically, it should be no small matter when the education minister, albeit possibly only a temporary one – under whose auspice Israeli children would be taught democratic civics – contravenes Israel’s Declaration of Independence by publicly dismissing the voting rights of an entire group of people.

During the interview, Peretz espoused the well-known right-wing position of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. Even Netanyahu appeared to jump on that band wagon when just prior to the election in April, he spoke of annexing West Bank settlements. Still, Netanyahu’s comments were vague and appeared to only be limited to settlements.

In a noticeable omission, Netanyahu did not speak about sovereignty last week when he speaking in the Revava settlement at a celebratory event marking the 40th anniversary of the Samaria Regional Council – even though the setting almost seemed to demand it.

In classic Netanyahu style, however, he allowed Peretz’s words on the lack of Palestinian voting rights to hang in the air over the weekend, like a piece of laundry one forgot to take down.

Most other right-wing politicians, however, speak so frequently about sovereignty – otherwise known as annexation – that one often assumes that all sovereignty plans are the same.

But they are not. One of the critical differences is the status the plans accord to West Bank Palestinians. The more centrist right-wing politicians speak loosely of applying sovereignty only over West Bank settlements, not even over all of Area C – and certainly not over areas A and B, which are under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and where the bulk of West Bank Palestinians live. Such comments often do not address the question of the rights of the estimated 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C.

New Right Party head Naftali Bennett has long held that Israeli sovereignty should be applied to all of Area C, which is under Israeli military and civil rule. His plan has included giving citizenship and voting rights to those 300,000 Palestinians.

It is left to those politicians on the far right of the political spectrum, including those who were part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties in the last election, to advocate for Israeli sovereignty over all of the West Bank, including Areas A and B, where more than 2,000,000 Palestinians live. It is a plan that discounts the possibility of any form of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank. In the past, such a plan has allowed for local Palestinian self-governance of cities, towns and villages, including voting for such leadership. But it would not allow national-level voting.


IN HIS interview with Dana Weiss on Friday, Peretz spoke of his support for applying sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). “I want this to happen; this is our land.”

“Without voting rights for Arabs?” Weiss asked. “Without voting rights at the [national] political level,” Peretz confirmed.

“That’s called apartheid,” Weiss told him.

Peretz alluded to the possibility that there could be a number of creative options, explaining that this is very complex situation.

Weiss simplified it.

“If there is sovereignty based on your world view, they cannot vote,” she exclaimed.

“Of course they [the West Bank Palestinians] can’t vote,” Peretz responded.

It’s not a new position for Peretz, nor is he alone on the matter. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich has also held that position. But then again, he is not tasked with the education of young Israeli citizens.

In the aftermath of Peretz’s comments, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel tweeted in response that in any normal country, Peretz could not be the education minister.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman asked on Twitter what had happened to the human rights warriors who should have taken up this cause, particularly the die-hard Democrats, including those on the right, for whom voting rights in a democracy are sacred.

Some are so used to hearing the word apartheid bandied about that such criticism of Peretz sounded just like one more anti-Zionist diatribe. For those on the Left, Peretz’s apartheid statement failed to cause a stir because of a belief that a de facto apartheid regime does in fact exist for Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank.

It is also possible that his words spoke of a scenario so theoretical – full annexation of the West Bank – that it seemed more pertinent to comment on the more real possibility of support for gay conversion therapy.

Then there are those who, like Peretz, are simply willing to pay the price for a quasi-democratic state, which maintains its Jewish character and full territory by providing Palestinians with benefits but not political rights.

Lapid might be ashamed. But like the biblical Nachshon testing the waters of the Sea of Reeds to see if they would part, the apathetic silence that greeted Peretz’s words could also signal a growing acceptance among Israelis that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be one of inequitable democratic rights, rather than equitable ones.

Peretz spoke from a reframed narrative with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the choice might be between apartheid Jewish Israel or a non-Jewish Israel. In that scenario, apartheid Israel might be a choice Jewish Israelis might be willing to make.


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