Rafi Peretz should go

The tragedy of Peretz is that his remarks not only reflect his worldview, but a growing perspective in some sectors of Israeli society that should not be a basis for how the country educates.

July 15, 2019 15:17
3 minute read.
Rafi Peretz should go

Israel's Education minister Rafi Peretz arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / REUTERS)

Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz has scandalized the very notion of what it means to be an education minister through his offensive comments and revelations that he believes that “gay conversion therapy” is effective. It comes days after he had already brought Israel into disrepute by slamming intermarriage and assimilation in the Diaspora as a “second Holocaust.”

The tragedy of Peretz is that his remarks not only reflect his worldview, but a growing perspective in some sectors of Israeli society that should not be a basis for how the country educates its children, let alone the message it sends to adults or to the world.

On the one hand, Israel is a vibrant and diverse society that embraces people no matter their religious belief or sexual orientation. Israel has, for example, taken in hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are descendants of mixed marriages, and has made great strides in creating equality for the LGBTQ community. The goal of Israel is not to push away Jews and compare the difficult choices some make in the Diaspora with the crimes of Nazism. Nor is the goal of Israel to distance our society from the gay rights that make Israel a beacon of human rights in the Middle East and the world.

This does not mean we must all agree that assimilation or intermarriage are good and acceptable, nor that everyone in Israel must support the vibrant Pride parade in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. One of the beauties of Israel is that we have a spectrum of voices.

Peretz’s views are part of that spectrum, but they cannot be the official view of the country’s education minister, as they are offensive to large numbers of Israelis as well as Jews across the Diaspora.

Peretz has been widely condemned. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that assimilation is not a critical problem, and that we must not look down on Jews living in places like America. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Peretz after his remarks were broadcast about gay conversion therapy, and the prime minister said he had “made it clear to him that the Israeli educational system will continue to accept all Jewish children whomever they are, and without any difference based on sexual orientation.”

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz pointed out that conversion therapy has harmed gay people who already face difficulty acclimating in their families and societies. The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel said that children should not be exposed to homophobic venom, and recommended that the education minister seek his own therapy for his dark views and instead should embrace openness and acceptance.

Just this past January, the Israel Medical Association banned doctors from practicing conversion therapy, which is based on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured. “The treatments to change one’s sexual orientation have been found to be ineffective and could cause mental damage, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies,” the IMA said in a position paper on the practice.

The problem with Peretz’s comments is that he is not merely an MK, and he is not merely expressing one radical viewpoint. He is the minister charged with our children’s education and as such is meant to be a role model, someone school children and teachers alike can look to as a moral beacon.

Sadly, Peretz is far from serving in that capacity, and Netanyahu should seriously consider removing him from the Education Ministry before he can cause further damage. Peretz has already alienated large swathes of Diaspora Jewry, and has now insulted the LGBTQ community throughout the country, including students in schools his ministry is meant to serve. It is difficult to understand how he once served as the IDF’s chief rabbi, a role that also requires a high degree of statesmanship.

The Peretz affair shows why the public must take the upcoming election seriously, and not allow Israel to decline further with comments by ministers that seem more appropriate to a country of ignorance than the hi-tech Start-Up Nation that is a beacon to countries around the world for its success and promise. To secure that future we need first-rate education ministers. Peretz, unfortunately, has shown that he is not.

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