Israel's Education Minister Now Says He Opposes Gay 'Conversion Therapy'

Faced by growing criticism, Rafi Peretz called purported conversion therapy ‘inappropriate,’ but added: ‘Individuals with a homosexual orientation have the right to receive professional help’

Education Minister Rafi Peretz
Ilan Assayag

Israel's Education Minister Rafi Peretz walked back on his remarks broadcast Saturday in support of gay conversion therapy.

“I am adamantly opposed to conversion therapy,” he wrote Tuesday in response to a letter from 67 Tel Aviv elementary school principals that took him to task for his earlier comments. “I know [conversion therapy] is inappropriate. That is my unequivocal position,” he wrote.

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Speaking in an interview broadcast on Channel 12 News on Saturday, Peretz said he believed that conversion therapy for gays and lesbians was “possible” and that he had performed it himself. He related how he responded when a student told him about his sexual orientation: “First of all, I embraced him. I said very warm things: ‘Let’s think. Let’s study. And let’s contemplate.’ The objective is first of all for him to know himself well. I put the facts in front of him and he will decide.”

In his letter to the principals, Peretz said he recognized that conversion therapy was “an invasive treatment that does not suit the human soul, [that] causes patients more suffering than relief and can even pose a risk of suicide.”

Clarifying his comments broadcast on Saturday, Peretz added: “Individuals with a homosexual orientation have the right to find help and a sympathetic ear with professionals, in a respectful and loving manner, and that’s what I meant in the interview.” In their letter, the principals expressed “disgust” over Peretz’s televised remarks.

Responding to Peretz’s clarification, Ohad Hizki, the director of the Aguda, the Israeli national LGBT task force, said: “Finally the education minister has retracted his dangerous remarks and recognized that there is no need to convert anyone.” Addressing Peretz directly, Hizki added: “We will not settle for apologies. The time has come to back up your words with actions.”

He demanded that a draft of a circular from the Education Ministry’s director general addressing issues affecting the LGBT community be issued, following what Hizki said was a long delay. “As Israel’s education minister, you have a great responsibility,” Hizki wrote.