Israel’s new education minister under fire for supporting gay conversion therapy

Rafi Peretz, Israel’s Education Minister and chairman of the Jewish Home Party, speaks at a party meeting on June 19, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90) 

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s new education minister Rafi Peretz said in a television interview that he supports gay conversion therapy and that he has used the practice to help homosexual youth.

The comments from Peretz, who was appointed to the position last month, is the second controversial statement he has made in two weeks. Last week it was revealed that Peretz during a Cabinet meeting on July 1 called intermarriage a “Second Holocaust.

The new comments spurred calls for his resignation from politicians, educators and people who work with gay youth.

The interview was aired on Channel 12 news on Saturday night. During the interview Peretz was asked about his attitude toward LGBT people and about his opinion of so-called conversion therapy.

“I think that it is possible to convert (someone’s sexual orientation),” Peretz responded. “I can tell you that I have deep familiarity on the issue of education, and I have also done it (practiced conversion therapy).”

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Peretz said that for someone who is gay, the goal is “that first of all he gets to know himself better and then he can decide.”

“The remarks by the education minister regarding the gay community are unacceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the government under my leadership,” Netanyahu said in a statement Saturday night. “I spoke this evening with Rabbi Rafi Peretz, and made it clear to him that the Israeli educational system will continue to accept all Jewish children whoever they are and without any difference based on sexual orientation.”

Peretz later attempted to clarify his comments. “During my years as an educator, I met with students who felt terribly distressed over their sexual orientation and chose to turn to professionals to change their [sexual] orientation. What I said in the interview was from my personal acquaintance with similar cases,” he said a couple hours after the interview. He also noted that he did not claim that a child must be sent for conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is legal in Israel and is practiced by both licensed and unlicensed therapists.

Ohad Chizki, director of The Aguda – The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, told the Jerusalem Post that conversion therapy is a “hate crime.” He called on Netanyahu to fire Peretz.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who last month was appointed to his position and became the first openly gay Israeli government minister, condemned Peretz’ remarks. “The Likud government, the national-liberal movement won’t give her hand to conversion therapy. The serious studies in the world of psychology are united around the position that not only can they not ‘convert’ the sexual orientation – it’s dangerous and can cause pain and suffering to youth and even lead them to suicide,” he said.

Peretz is head of the Religious-Zionist Jewish Home Party. He served as the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces from 2010 to 2016.