Rafi Peretz was the target of a wave of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum after saying that gay conversion therapy is possible.
Education Minister Rafi Peretz generated a backlash of criticism after expressing support for gay conversion therapy in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 on Saturday evening.
“I think it is possible” to convert people with a homosexual “tendency,” Peretz said, adding that he had conducted such therapy himself. “I respect every person, whoever they are,” he also said.
Peretz is the leader of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party and heads the Union of Right-Wing Parties, a political alliance of several like-minded parties. Peretz, a former air force pilot, also served as chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces.
Reaction to his remarks was swift. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly tried to distance himself from Peretz’s comments.
In a Saturday evening post on Twitter, Netanyahu said, “The remarks of the Minister of Education regarding the gay community are not acceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the Government under my leadership. I spoke this evening with Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who made it clear that the Israeli education system will continue to accept all of Israel’s children and children wherever they may be, without any difference of sexual orientation.”
Former Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right party, also weighed in. On Sunday, he said,”Israeli society consists of a variety of people, and no one has to convert anyone else. We accept every person as he is.”
“The statements made do not represent the majority of the national-religious public that is opposed to the obsessive war against LGBT people. Every person was created in the image of God, every person and every image,” Bennett said.
The opposition parties were also quick to jump on Peretz’s remarks. Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White party, Netanyahu’s main opposition, said, “The words of the Minister of Education are serious. Any statements about conversion therapy cannot be legitimate in Israel in 2019. The Blue and White government will promote equality, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
“The right of every person to live according to his faith, opinion and inclination is a cornerstone of Israeli democracy and we will defend it with all our might. We will not lend a hand to the continuation of radicalization and we will restore Israel to sanity and progress.”
Moshe Ya’alon, a leading member of Blue and White, went still further in his criticism, saying “something is happening in Religious Zionism, large parts of which I greatly admire. There are parts there that are politicized, where everyone tries to be extreme about women, in relation to LGBT. This is what I call the process of darkness of the State of Israel.”
Peretz himself later clarified his remarks, according to Kan news. Peretz said, “I did not argue that a boy or a girl should be sent for conversion therapy. During my years as an educator, I met with students who felt terrible distress with their sexual orientation and chose to use professionals to change their orientation.
“What I said in the interview came from my personal acquaintance with similar cases. The education system in Israel under my leadership will continue to accept all the children and children of Israel wherever they may be, without any differences of sexual orientation. That’s what I also made clear in the [initial] interview.”