New Netanyahu spokesman to 'Post': Not appointed because I'm gay

Likud admits timing announced due to gay therapy scandal

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the Likud's LGBT forum head, Dr. Evan Cohen, as his new spokesman for the international media on Sunday, a day after Education Minister Rafi Peretz's revealed his support for gay conversion therapy and brought Netanyahu bad press around the world.
Cohen told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview that Netanyahu already hired him six weeks ago, but the announcement was made now because he had just completed technical procedures required to take the job.
“The timing is irrelevant, and the appointment would have been criticized no matter when it was announced,” Cohen said. “I won’t play identity politics. I won’t play that game. [My orientation] has nothing to do with the position I’ve been given.”
Cohen, who received his Ph.D in linguistics from Tel Aviv University, where he teaches, was born in Durban, South Africa, and moved to Israel at age nine. He said he has tenure at TAU and did not need the job, but Netanyahu saw him interviewed on i24 about Amir Ohana becoming the first gay minister, and recruited him for the post.
“You don’t say no to a prime minister,” Cohen said.
In a Hebrew message on his Twitter account announcing the appointment, Netanyahu did not mention Cohen’s professional qualifications, but did mention his role founding the Likud’s LGBT forum. A Likud official close to Netanyahu openly admitted that the Peretz scandal was the reason for announcing it now.
Asked if they “waited for a rainy day,” the source said: “Yes. We work well here sometimes.”
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz declined to comment on Cohen’s appointment, but Eitan Ginzburg, who is one of the party’s three gay MKs, slammed Netanyahu’s decision.
“It was cynical for him to announce the appointment at this specific time and mention his orientation, not his international relations capabilities,” Ginzburg said. “I don’t know anything about Evan’s abilities in talking to the press, but this appointment is intended to portray the prime minister as pro-LGBT when he has clearly proven that he is not.”
Ohana praised the appointment, calling Cohen “one of the most brilliant people I have met in politics,” and wished him well in the mission that lies ahead.
“Hearing him be interviewed makes me feel proud to be a Likudnik,” Ohana said.
In an interview with the Post seven years ago, Cohen said gay people should support whichever party fits their political ideology regardless of their sexual orientation.
“We feel very much at home in the Likud, which defines itself as a national-liberal party,” Cohen said. “Inside the party we have gotten nothing but support.”
Cohen replaces David Keyes, who quit last December following sexual harassment allegations.
The state closed the sexual harassment case against Keyes, because the allegations occurred before he became a state employee.
News of Cohen’s appointment also comes just a couple of weeks after Sara Greenberg, Netanyahu’s adviser for foreign affairs who was involved in policy planning and the prime minister’s speech writing, stepped down after two years in the post.
Greenberg, originally from Philadelphia, started in the Prime Minister’s Office as Netanyahu’s adviser on the Diaspora, but took on additional roles and responsibilities after Keyes and Netanyahu’s top foreign policy adviser, Jonathan Schachter, stepped down last year.