Peretz’s gift to Israel bashers - analysis

Netanyahu: assured that the Israeli education system will continue to be accepting of all of Israel's children

July 16, 2019 05:21
4 minute read.
MK Rafi Peretz at a ceremony at the education ministry

MK Rafi Peretz at a ceremony at the education ministry. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

On Saturday night, within an hour of when Education Minister Rafi Peretz triggered a maelstrom by advocating gay conversion therapy on national television, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying this did not reflect the view of his government.

Peretz’s words, Netanyahu said, are “not acceptable to me, and do not reflect the position of the government under my leadership.” He stressed that he already spoke with Peretz and was assured that the Israeli education system will continue to be accepting of all of Israel’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation.

But, as Yediot Aharonot columnist Nachum Barnea pointed out in an op-ed piece on Monday, what is telling is that Netanyahu was quick to flag and distance himself from Peretz’ comments about gays, but was silent on a different – and no less controversial – part of Peretz’ Channel 12 interview with Dana Weiss.

“I want to apply Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria,” Peretz declared. “If it is in stages, I do not care – I want this to happen. This is our country.”

Asked about what rights the Palestinians living there would have, he replied: “We will take care of all their needs; we will make sure that it will be good for them, but they will not have the ability to make political decisions.”

Weiss asked if this meant sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria without voting rights for the Arabs.

“Without voting rights at the political level,” he replied. Challenged that this would mean apartheid, Peretz said that Israel is in a “very complicated” situation.

“We need to find the solutions – where sovereignty will be, on whom it will fall, will it fall on people or on territory,” he said. But, he made clear, the Palestinians will not be able to vote.

And while Peretz’ comments on gay conversion therapy captured the headlines and the attention in Israel and foreign ministries abroad, it is likely that for those charged with watching developments in Israel and the Middle East, what was more interesting were the education minister’s words about sovereignty, and denying the vote to Palestinians if Israel ever did extend sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Peretz is not the first person with far-right views who has taken up a ministerial position in Jerusalem, and whom the world then got used to. Avigdor Liberman was in a similar position when he came to office as foreign minister in 2009. Fresh off statements saying that Israel should redraw its map to cut Arab citizens out of Israel and bring Jewish ones beyond the Green Line into the country, and after he said that then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could “go to hell,” his appointment as Israel’s top diplomat raised more than a few eyebrows.

But that concern was largely assuaged by the knowledge that it would be Netanyahu – who did not share these positions or sentiments – who would be calling the shots, not Liberman.

Which is why Netanyahu’s silence on Peretz’ comments about annexing all the West Bank and denying Palestinians the vote is likely being noticed in capitals abroad. Why is Netanyahu not distancing himself from those words? Does he share those sentiments?

Seasoned Israel watchers will be able to figure out that the prime minister’s silence on these issues is largely a product of the election campaign, since he has made clear numerous times he does not want to see a one-state solution.

Peretz’ comments, however, do resonate with a good chunk of voters on the hard Right – voters Netanyahu wants to appeal to – and he does not want to alienate them two months before the election by taking Peretz to task for commenting on an issue that, at this point, is theoretical.

But still, both Peretz’s comments and the prime minister’s silence have consequences – less long-term diplomatic consequences, because it is doubtful that anyone who knows this country will believe that Israel would ever institute an apartheid-style regime with the checks and balances in place here, and more short-term damage having to do with the country’s perception and image abroad.

For those looking to delegitimize the Jewish state – who paint it as a dark, racist country hell-bent on stealing land and oppressing the Palestinians – Peretz’ comments and Netanyahu’s silence are nothing less than a gift.

Peretz’ words have made debunking the lie that Israel is on the fast track to becoming an apartheid state that much more difficult.

Because when Israeli spokespeople will argue that this will never happen – that the Israeli people would never allow it, and that the country is as concerned about its soul as those abroad who profess to be – Peretz’ words will be read out, with the explainer: “And here is what your education minister has to say.”

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