Some 3,000 students protested in Tel Aviv Wednesday against anti-LGBT statements made by Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who said in an interview with an Israeli daily last week that his children are heterosexual because he raised them in a "healthy and natural way."
Students carried signs reading "Not in our school," "We've come to dispel the darkness" and "Don't worry Rafi, soon enough we'll see you in drag."
"The people we're supposed to be counting on are preventing us from progressing as a society," said Lee-Osher, a twelfth grader from Even Yehuda. "It's on us to stand up to the incitement dividing Israeli society. Our time has come as young people to change the face of Israeli society. That's our present need."
Yehuda, a member of Israel's National Student Council, told his peers, "Don't be indifferent to injustice being done unto others."
Talia, a Tel Aviv student, said Peretz's statements offended her and her friends. "Each of us is entitled to live according to our own values and beliefs," she said. "We won't tolerate people who have done nothing wrong to be persecuted by these statements. This is unacceptable, it's not our vision."
Eighth grade students from another Tel Aviv school said their teacher and principal are gay, and that "it's not okay that our education minister is homophobic." A friend added, "It's a shame that he's our education minister, there are LGBT students in our school." A group of eighth grade girls said of Peretz, "Who is he to decide what's natural? As education minister, he must lead by example."
"Rafi Peretz called my family abnormal," said Tom from Tel Aviv. "To be an LGBT student is to be unrepresented in history and sex education classes. I still feel discriminated against by my government. I won't be able to get married."
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Omri, from Modi'in, said that as a religious gay man, it's important to him to understand the other side. "Rabbi Peretz, what do you mean 'unnatural'?" he said, adding, "I'm angry at Rabbi Peretz but I want to understand him and I want him to understand me. Family values are important to me too, and I'm going to raise a healthy and natural family, full of love."
Over the weekend, Yedioth Ahronoth published an interview with Peretz, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, in which he said that because his children were raised "in a natural and healthy way," they don't identify as a "different" sexual orientation and are "building their homes based on Jewish values." Peretz also noted that "a man and a woman" is the definition of a "normative family."
Following the interview's publication, several municipalities, including that of Tel Aviv, started the school day Sunday with lessons on tolerance, equality and human dignity. At the same time, student council representatives began planning Wednesday morning's protest at Rabin Square.
On Tuesday, representatives of the National Student Council convened to discuss the framing of the protest, and whether to stress the education minister's homophobic remarks or address a wider theme of equality and democracy. They overwhelmingly decided that the topic of the demonstration should be as broad as possible.
The protest also addressed Peretz's call to deport asylum seekers. Wayi Aguer, a seventeen-year-old South Sudanese student at the Eastern Mediterranean International School, said: "At six, I already knew too much about death. I lived in Israel for five years, until the state expelled us to South Sudan. Many were killed. The education minister does not recognize the rights of asylum seekers, and calls them infiltrators. As someone who has seen and experienced injustice, I say it's our duty not to take a stand against it. "
Education Ministry officials warned Tel Aviv high school principals in recent days not to cooperate with the protest, after several schools held special classes on Sunday morning on the subject of tolerance, equality and human dignity.
Senior officials in the Education Ministry instructed school administrators not to allow students to attend the protest, according to several sources, on grounds that students are prohibited from absenteeism without permission. In response, school administrators framed the protest as an "external activity," which is permitted.
One administrator noted that religious school students have participated in demonstrations organized by right-wing movements and political parties. The Education Ministry declined to comment.