Amid Conversion Therapy Scandal, Netanyahu Names LGBTQ Activist as International Spokesman

Evan Cohen’s appointment comes day after Netanyahu distanced his government from Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s comments in favor of conversation therapy

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Evan Cohen shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu in a photo posted on the prime minister's Twitter account on July 14, 2019.
Evan Cohen shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu in a photo posted on the prime minister's Twitter account on July 14, 2019.Credit: Twitter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that a longtime LGBTQ activist in his Likud party has been appointed his new international media spokesman.

>> Gay conversion controversy reveals seismic shift in Israeli politics | Analysis

Announcing Evan Cohen’s appointment, Netanyahu tweeted: “Evan is a talented man who founded the Pride faction within Likud.” He noted there were “great challenges ahead for those engaged in advocating for Israel.”Netanyahu’s emphasis on Cohen’s LGBTQ advocacy came as controversy swirled around remarks made by Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who said in a televised interview Saturday that it is “possible” to perform conversion therapy, and that he himself had helped performed such therapy in the past.

As founder and head of Likud Pride — a caucus of LGBTQ activists within the ruling party — Cohen has advocated for marriage equality, the right to surrogacy for gay men, and other issues. During the run-up to April’s election, Cohen said that he believed the way Likud could move LGBTQ rights forward would be to bring more “centrist” parties into a future governing coalition.

“What we have to do is strive to form a broader coalition, not only with the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties,” he said. “I think we should form a coalition with other parties, too — centrist parties — in order to promote these issues. I think that’s very important.”

The position of international media spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office has been vacant since last November, when David Keyes resigned following multiple accusations of sexual harassment. A Civil Service Commission probe into Keyes’ behavior was closed after it was determined that the cases took place before he joined public service.

Cohen, who immigrated to Israel from South Africa as a child, is a linguistics lecturer and is married to Omri Rosencrantz, a fellow academic and Scrabble enthusiast. In the 2015 Scrabble World Championships, they were the first married couple to compete as part of the same delegation.

The 2013 Pride parade in Jerusalem featuring members of the Likud Pride caucus, including Dr. Evan Cohen (waving a blue Likud flag).Credit: Gil Kol

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