Gay Conversion Therapy May Lead to Suicide, Professionals Warn After Minister's Comments

The LGBT community as well as teachers, students and parents are planning a protest in Tel Aviv to demand Rafi Peretz's resignation ■ Right-wing lawmakers blast minister, who says he never endorsed the method

Peretz (R) and Smotrich during a Union of Right-Wing Parties convention in Jerusalem, March 2019
Olivier Fitoussi

Medical professionals as well as politicians on Sunday condemned Education Minister Rafi Peretz' for saying he believes gay conversion therapy is "possible," with the chairman of the Israel Psychiatric Association saying it is scientifically proven to have no benefit and can lead to suicide.

Peretz, the chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, made his remarks in an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday, and said he even performed conversion therapy in the past.

"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."

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Peretz responded on Sunday to the uproar, saying that "there is a battle here for the right to think differently."

Those who attacked the interview didn't even watch it, Peretz wrote on Facebook. "The responses came from the gut, while distorting what I said, cheap populism that serves mainly to deepen the schism in Israeli society."

Peretz stressed he respects every human being and has no intention of forcing beliefs on anyone. "When I was asked in the studio specifically about conversion therapy, I said from my experience only that when religious Zionist students came to me and asked for guidance I referred them to professionals and I saw that it worked. I didn't say I supported conversion therapy."

The LGBT community is planning a protest in Tel Aviv at 7 P.M. on Sunday to demand Peretz's resignation. Education professionals including teachers, administrators, students and parents from all around the country will join the demonstration, along with members of the LGBT community who were forced to undergo conversion therapy.

"Gay conversion therapy is a hate crime," said Ohad Hizki, CEO of the Aguda - The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel. "It is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's responsibility to fire Peretz immediately. Any other stance, in our eyes, is support for him and his statements."

Fishel said that conversion therapy are "not only scientifically proven to have no benefit, they are dangerous, and cause serious emotional damage to the patient, essentially a great sense of failure that may even lead to suicide."

"The education minister, with his wretched statements in favor of conversion therapy, is endangering the lives of many people," Fishel said. "It is on him to cease [performing] conversion therapy, take responsibility for what he said, apologize and take actions to ensure that no Israeli ever has to undergo conversion therapy."

The previous education minister, Naftali Bennett, responded to Peretz's comments: "Israeli society is composed of many different shades, and no one needs to convert anyone else. We accept people as they are."

Bennett was also replaced by Peretz as head of Habayit Hayehudi when he left to form his new party, Hayamin Hehadash. "The things that were said do not represent the majority of the religious-Zionist population," he said, "which has doubts about this obsessive war against the LGBTQ community."

"Beloved is all humankind for they were made in the image of God," Bennett added, "every person and every image."

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that Peretz's comments on conversion therapy are part of an ongoing trend that proves Netanyahu is trying to establish a halakha (Jewish law) government.

"Rafi Peretz's comments on gay conversion therapy are not a random comment or taken out of context," Lieberman said. "They are part of a long line of comments by ultra-Orthodox and religious leaders, who leave no doubt: Netanyahu is trying to bring about a nation run by religious law."

Lieberman continued: "In the past two months we have read clearly what Bezalel Smotrich said about a country run by religious law and returning to the times of Saul and David; the statements by the Rabbi Aviner, that women have no place in Israeli politics; the religious ruling of the Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of Shas, who ruled that pregnant women are forbidden from undergoing ultrasounds; and now let's add the ridiculous ruling from last week by the rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, that it's now forbidden to raise dogs. [Peretz's] statements are a drop in the ocean."