Under the radar

Despite the rightful uproar caused by Peretz’s remarks regarding the LGBT community – which he later retracted – another one of his statements seemed to go under the radar.

July 17, 2019 21:32
3 minute read.
Under the radar

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the recently elected chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party. (photo credit: BAYIT YEHUDI)

On Saturday night, Education Minister Rafi Peretz gave an interview that he will probably never forget.
The head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties talked about a wide range of topics: the state of the national-religious community in Israel; creating a join right-wing list; and how, in just five months, he rose from being the head of a pre-army program (mechina) to becoming Israel’s education minister.
But the headlines from Peretz’s interview focused on a whole different subject: his attitude toward the LGBT community.
Peretz said in the interview with Channel 12’s Dana Weiss that as a rabbi, he cannot accept the idea of homosexuality, and that he supports “conversion therapy” – a controversial and banned practice of trying to “convert” a person from being gay to becoming straight.
Peretz’s remarks attracted criticism from across the political spectrum. Justice Minister Amir Ohana from Likud, Israel’s first openly gay minister, said that he “utterly condemns” these statements, and that his message to teens is that “sexual orientation does not require conversion or therapy. However, ignorance and prejudice do.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also criticized Peretz, saying that the remarks “are unacceptable and do not reflect the position of the government under my leadership.” A day later, Netanyahu announced the appointment of a new international media spokesman, Evan Cohen, who happens to also be gay.
The scandal was not isolated to Israel, but also impacted the country’s foreign relations – Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel canceled his participation in an event with Israel’s outgoing Ambassador Simona Frankel to protest Peretz’s comments.
Despite the rightful uproar caused by Peretz’s remarks regarding the LGBT community – which he later retracted – another one of his statements seemed to go under the radar.
Peretz told Weiss that he supports full annexation of the West Bank, with no political rights for its Palestinian inhabitants.
“I don’t care if it [the annexation] will be step by step, I want it to happen,” he said. “It’s our land.”
When asked if Arabs would be granted the right to vote, Peretz answered: “We will take care of their needs, and make sure that they will live well. But they will have no ability to influence politics.”
“This is called apartheid,” Weiss interjected.
“We live in a difficult reality in Israeli society and in the State of Israel, and we will have to find solutions,” Peretz responded.
In March 2017, MK Miki Zohar said on an i24 panel that in his opinion the two-state solution is dead, and that the only resolution left to the conflict is applying full sovereignty in the West Bank, with no voting rights for the Palestinians living there.
“They will get all of the rights, like every other citizen, except voting for the Knesset,” he said.
Those remarks, made by a then-Likud backbencher, attracted criticism across party lines. Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman said in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting that he received a message from Washington that applying sovereignty in the West Bank will lead “to an immediate crisis.”
Liberman added at the time that in his opinion, Israel “should separate Palestinians from it, not absorb more of them.”
How is it that important and controversial comments by Peretz, a senior politician and member of the security cabinet, were hidden behind remarks over LGBT rights?
The answer it seems is that Israeli society has decided to ignore the Palestinian issue. As a result, almost no politician condemned Peretz’s comments, including Netanyahu.
Political analysts say that the upcoming election is not about security or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather about Israel’s religious makeup.
While that might be the case, Israel cannot run away from its conflict with the Palestinians. There are an estimated 2.4 million Arabs living in the West Bank. Realizing Peretz’s vision of annexing the territory without granting equal rights to all of the residents would be an act of apartheid.
Peretz’s call for this to happen should not be ignored, and Israel’s politicians – including on the Right – should stand up and make their position clear.

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