Following an outcry over his comments that he believes gay conversion therapy to be effective, Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz hit back at critics, saying that he had not expressed support for such treatment, and that he “loved and respected” every person as they are.
Peretz said that the attack against him demonstrated that freedom of expression was reserved for only one side of the political and social spectrum, and that he was being attacked as a representative of the religious Zionist community.
During an interview with Channel 12 that was broadcast Saturday night, Peretz was asked whether he thought it possible to convert someone from their homosexual orientation.
“I think that it is possible,” he responded, and went on to say that he had been involved in giving conversion therapy.
In 2014, the Health Ministry stated that there was no scientific evidence that gay conversion therapy, which includes counseling and even electro-shock therapy, is effective. The ministry also said that it can cause harm to those exposed to it.
The head of the National Union Party, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, said that he did not agree with everything Peretz said, but that those professing free speech and liberalism were “proving themselves to be thought dictators who shoot at the heart of anyone who dares to express a statement which goes against the common dialogue.”
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and one of the leading figures of the conservative wing of the religious Zionist movement, said that the first type of conversion treatment that should be banned was gender reassignment surgery, and lambasted what he described as an assault on freedom of expression.
Several other lower profile religious Zionist rabbis were critical of Peretz.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Peretz insisted that his comments had been distorted for political purposes, and that he directed people to conversion therapy at their own request.
“I said that first of all I love and respect every person as they are, I emphasized that I do not grade anyone,” wrote Peretz. “When I was asked specifically about conversion therapy, I said that from my experience alone, when students turned to me from the religious Zionist community and asked me for direction, I directed them to professionals at their request and I saw that it was possible.
“I never said that I was in favor of conversion therapy,” he continued. “I respect and value everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.”
He added that the attacks against him demonstrated that “it seems that not even the education minister can think differently, [and] that there is only one camp which flies the flag of free speech.”
Eliyahu said that people were obligated “to demonstrate support for normalcy,” for “common sense,” and for “a normal family of a father, mother and children.” He added that if people “want to live in a normal country where you can express a sane opinion, you have to support the education minister. Even if you’re not religious and even if you’re LGBT.”
Some leaders in the religious Zionist community spoke out against Peretz’s comments, although a spokeswoman for the Shoval religious gay organization said that it had not seen mainstream support from rabbis in the community.
One rabbi who did speak out was municipal Chief Rabbi of Rosh Tzurim Mordechai Vardi, who wrote a letter to his congregants saying that the Peretz comments were dangerous, and could lead some to consider taking their own life.
“The statement that conversion therapy can change sexual orientation is wrong, with the potential to cause feelings of guilt and frustration that could push people to suicide in the worst case, and an undesired wedding in a no-worse situation,” wrote Vardi.
He said that there is a spectrum of homosexuality, and that professionals could clarify where an individual is on that spectrum, adding that on occasion homosexual feelings were “confusion during maturity,” but implored people not to use gay conversion clinics, saying that they were “unnecessary and dangerous.”
The Shoval organization, together with Havruta, another group representing religious gays, said that they were “disgusted with rabbis who give us a bear hug with warm words while attempting ‘to fix’ us,” saying that many religious members of the LGBT community had been “burned” by the attempt of unqualified rabbis in the religious Zionist community to give them therapy.
“Even though professional organizations strongly oppose conversion therapy, and despite the endless testimonies of psychological harm that patients have experienced, including suicide, depression and self-hatred, we are witness to repeated attempts of extremist elements in the religious world who continue to abuse and harm LGBT,” the organizations said.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>