Schools, teachers’ unions, social movements, LGTB organizations and mayors throughout the country reacted with shock after the Minister of Education, far-right and messianic Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz, again publicly made racist and homophobic remarks.
In an interview published in Yediot Aharonot last Friday, January 10, Peretz said a normative family is “with a man and a woman, and should be kept that way.” This remark was in response to a question about what he would do if one of his children were to “come out of the closet.” “Thank God my children grew up naturally and healthily,” Peretz told the newspaper. Last July, Peretz said he believed “conversion therapy” could succeed in “converting” homosexual people to be heterosexual and that he had given counseling on the matter.
Since the publication of last Friday’s interview, people across the country have organized protests and events in response to the Peretz’s remarks. The backlash was particularly strident from teachers and families within the national educational system which is under the minister’s control. Parents of LGBTQ students called for a strike on Sunday, January 12, the first morning back to school after the weekend. Some of the protest organizers fashioned black arm bands for students. Schools in more than a two dozen cities and regional councils opted to devote the day’s first class period to discussions of equality and tolerance, according to media reports. Teachers in Tel Aviv-Jaffa public schools presented again a lesson plan about gay families initially used in classes last March. Demonstrations were held in several schools around the country. On Monday, January 13, a protest by local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists was held in front of a school in Beit Shemesh that Peretz was visiting. On Wednesday morning, January 15, pupils and teachers from Tel Aviv and Jaffa schools demonstrated in Rabin Square in the center of the city.
The LGBT umbrella organization Aguda called Peretz’s comments irresponsible and said they were providing an opening for homophobia and anti-gay violence. “It is unfortunate that all that will be remembered of your tenure as education minister is hatred, ignorance and a lack of action,” Aguda said in a statement.
In the same interview with Yediot Aharonot, Peretz also called for the annexation of the occupied West Bank without granting voting rights to the Palestinians who live there and said he favored keeping out of Israel African asylum seekers because they “have their own certain mentality and their place is in their own country. We are the state of the Jews.” Peretz also defended his partnership with extreme-right racist politician Itamar Ben Gvir, saying the Kahane-disciple is “a very soft person, relaxed, humane”. Ben Gvir is an attorney-activist known for representing Jewish terror suspects.
Leading Communist Party member, MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash – Joint List) called Peretz “a proud racist, anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-women rights and anti- equality” and demanded that he resign as Education Minister.
Less than a year ago, senior officials in the Jewish Home party were all but begging the former Chief Rabbi of the Israeli military, Brigadier General Rafi Peretz, to take the reins of the one-time national religious party. Peretz, assumed the education portfolio in Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government in June.
During recent days, with polls forecasting that the Jewish Home and racist Otzma Yehudit party will come up short of the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset (3.25% of the valid ballots cast, or four MKs), Peretz has been holding talks with other far-right religious parties, the National Union and the New Right, to explore the possibility of running together in the March 2 elections.