Hundreds of protesters in Tel Aviv called for the ouster of Israel’s Minister of Education, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, on Sunday July 14, following the minister’s televised remark the night before that it is “possible” to successfully perform gay conversion therapy.
Speaking on Saturday night on Channel 12 News, Peretz, from the far-right and religious Union of Right-Wing Parties, was asked if he believed that people “who have such a tendency can be converted.” “I think it’s possible,” Peretz replied. “I can tell you I have an in-depth knowledge of education and I have performed it myself.” Peretz, head of the national religious Jewish Home party, was appointed last month to be education minister in Netanyahu’s caretaker government. In 1992, Peretz founded the Atzmona pre-military academy, in a settlement in the Gaza Strip. He also served as the chief rabbi of the Israel Military from 2010 to 2016.
Demonstrators gathered Sunday outside the governmental offices compound in Tel Aviv, among them members of Hadash, activists from the Communist Party of Israel, and MK Ofer Cassif. They held aloft signs reading “Conversion therapy – not in our school.” Earlier, some demonstrators staged a protest against Peretz at the entrance to Moshav Naveh in the south of Israel where he resides.
LGBTQ organizations called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give “the education portfolio to someone that is worthy of it.” In a joint letter to Netanyahu, they wrote “Your explicit promise not to give the Education Ministry to a benighted politician blew up in our faces when the education minister you recently appointed expressed public support in gay youth ‘conversion therapy.'” The letter added “We ask you not to leave Israel’s children to face ignorance and uninformed values.”
Ohad Khizki, director of the Aguda – The LGBT Association in Israel, addressed the demonstrators in Tel Aviv and extended his criticism to Netanyahu. “Abroad, there are a lot of flags to wave, but at home he’s satisfied with excuses or clarifications or weak condemnations,” Khizki said. “We can’t keep going along with our daily routine and make peace with a distorted reality in which the education minister expresses himself this way. An education minister who believes in conversion therapy is nothing to be proud of.” He appealed directly to Netanyahu: “We’re asking you to fire the education minister, and to advance equality reforms for the LGBT community now, with your full support.
Thousands of teachers in Israel have signed a petition demanding that Peretz be sacked. “We won’t continue teaching as usual when the education minister expresses such positions,” read a petition by a group called Gay and Lesbian Teachers. “If the minister isn’t removed, we will call on teachers and schools to strike at the start of the school year. We will use all the legal means at our disposal to protest against his dangerous and offensive statements,” the teachers said. The petition had reportedly garnered thousands of signatures. Tel Aviv’s 72 school principals signed a second petition against Peretz.
Earlier, medical professionals as well as politicians condemned Peretz’s comments, with the chair of the Israel Psychiatric Association saying conversion therapy it is scientifically proven to have no benefit and can lead to suicide. “It is shameful and worrisome that the education minister in Israel not only expresses support for conversion therapy, but attests to having performed it himself,” said Dr. Zvi Fishel. “As the Israel Medical Association has ruled, as well as the Israel Psychiatric Association and many other doctors’ associations in Israel and abroad, there is no treatment that can change the sexual orientation of any person.”