Israel’s freshly appointed education minister publicly endorsed gay conversion therapy for minors but insisted his view was taken out of context.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Rafael Peretz, an Orthodox rabbi, in Israel’s caretaker government just three weeks ago.
However, after backlash, he posted a Facebook statement arguing that ‘cynical’ left-wing critics are trying to ‘earn political capital on the back of the LGBT community’ on Sunday (14 July).
The leader of the ultranationalist right-wing political alliance the Jewish Home party, Peretz claimed he had performed the ‘therapy’ in the past.
He made the comments in a television interview on Channel 12’s evening news program on Saturday (13 July).
‘I think it is possible,’ he said. ‘I can tell you I have a very deep familiarity with this type of education and I have also done this.’
Moreover, he went onto describe how he counseled a student who came to him.
‘First, I hugged him and uttered very warm words. “Let’s learn, let’s contemplate.”‘
He added that his aim was for the student to ‘first of all, to know himself well, and then I can give him the data.’
Then, he concluded, it was up to the student to decide for himself.
Peretz became education minister last month as part of a coalition deal with Netanyahu.
The caretaker government is part of a complex and frantic political manoeuvre by Netanyahu to maintain his premiership.
The minister’s remarks only add to the panicked political atmosphere as Israel dives into another election on 17 September.
‘A minister of darkness’
With tensions high, criticism of the minister poured in and protests planned.
Nitzan Horowitz, the openly gay leader of the left-wing political party Meretz, said that Peretz was ‘not a minister of education, but a minister of darkness.’
He added that Peretz should be ‘converted’ to a position where he would cause less damage.
Furthermore, justice minister Amir Ohana condemned the statement. He stressed that the ‘Likud party does not support such ways,’ according to the Jerusalem Post.
Former Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni wrote on Twitter: ‘We cried out that the Netanyahu government is erasing the equality from the Declaration of Independence.
‘Now we have received it directly from the Minister of Education.
‘Conversion treatments and an apartheid state. Both sides of the same coin of injustice.
‘Those who condemn the one and remain silent in front of the other will accept both. Such state will be neither Jewish nor democratic,’ Livni concluded.
A spokesperson for the Aguda, an LGBTI group in Israel, added to the condemnation.
They told Gay Star News: ‘Suicide rates in the community, even today, are three times higher than those in the general population, not a little because of questionable efforts such as “conversion therapy”.
Peretz hits back
Peretz is new to politics. Having been a former chief military rabbi and educator.
But as criticism piled up, he sought to clarify his position.
In a long Facebook post on Sunday (14 July) he argued that critics had plucked the point out of context. Clarifying that he sat for a three-hour on-camera interview for the first time in his life.
Out of which, just 10 minutes were aired.
He accused his critics of ‘cynical exploitation’ the election period to ‘earn political capital on the back of the LGBT community.’ In addition, he said he was not in a position to ‘force his faith upon anybody.’
He also said that when he said he referred the student to professional, he ‘didn’t say it was for conversion treatments.’
Conversion therapy is still common
Also called reparative therapy, medical organizations have widely critisized the treatment as traumatizing and harmful to minors.
In fact, the American Academy of Paediatrics warned against it as early as 1993. They said it reinforced anxiety and shame.
Despite such denouncement, the ‘therapy’ has remained common in pockets of the US.
Though, the impact of the practise has been immeasurable. An estimated 698,000 LGBTI adults in the US have received conversion therapy according to research.
Around half of them underwent the unsound therapy as teens.