Education Minister Rafi Peretz began the week as an ultra-Orthodox right-wing religious Zionist and ended it in capitulation. His declaration about assimilation among Diaspora Jews being a “second Holocaust” became a tedious apology to the head of the Jewish Agency. His talk of the legitimacy of gay conversion therapy was replaced by feeble whining about his having been “lynched,” and from there it was a short hop to another apology, in which he said conversion therapy was unacceptable.
Presumably, this was not a sincere apology on Peretz’s part. Behind his capitulation stands Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is determined to hide the true face of his natural coalition partners until after the September 17 election. In this play, Netanyahu prefers not to be center stage, but there’s no reason why we should indulge him. After all, without him Peretz would have at most been a footnote in the chronicles of chief military rabbis. The person who appointed him to the cabinet did it so that Peretz’s party would sanctify his own injustices and help fortify him. It’s Netanyahu’s responsibility, and the focus should be on him now.
Peretz didn’t retract everything. Not the vision of apartheid he is advancing — perhaps because many people find it hard to distinguish from the temporary occupation that has gone on for 52 years. Not the certificate of appreciation he awarded to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the author of “Baruch Hagever.” Perhaps he would have mumbled an apology had Ginsburgh written a hagiography of Yishai Schlissel, who murdered Shira Banki at the 2015 Jerusalem pride parade. But Baruch Goldstein murdered Palestinians, and their blood has no electoral value here. Nor was there an apology for participating Monday in a sex-segregated conference, or for not shaking the hand of a teenager while awarding her a medal Sunday at the International Physics Olympiad. In today’s political market, women’s shares are also not at their peak.
In any event, the apologies, the mumbling and the whining over his “lynching” aren’t meant to confuse. We know precisely who belongs to the party Peretz heads, and what their views are on women, LGBT people, Palestinians and nonobservant Jews. One must be either naive or disingenuous to still be surprised by their remarks. Their opinion is known. These are Netanyahu’s natural partners, the people he is working hard to bring into the Knesset so they can help him evade justice.
Peretz and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich will be cabinet ministers in the postelection government, too. In this coalition, without the discipline imposed by an imminent election, the number of apologies will plummet. They’ll tell us the nation has voted, and it wants apartheid, conversion therapy and women in the back of the bus. As proof, the previous coalition voted repeatedly against banning conversion therapy. None of its members apologized.
Netanyahu put all his energy into insisting on unity on the right so Peretz’s Union of Taliban Parties would meet the electoral threshold and vote as a single bloc on the immunity law. But politics is a quid pro quo, and the size of the quid is commensurate with that of the quo. It’s hard not to be impressed by the monumental nature of this roundabout deal, its Pablo Escobar dimensions. When an ordinary criminal tries to avoid prison, he usually keeps his head down and waits for the storm to pass. At most, he kidnaps someone and demands a helicopter to Mexico.
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Instead, we got a prime minister who is willing to corrupt an entire country to save his own neck, from destroying its democratic foundations to offering up its citizens for sale to the lowest bidder. And as usual, Netanyahu isn’t the one who will pay the bill. It will be paid by humiliated and discriminated-against women, LGBT people who are sent for reeducation, Arabs and Ethiopians. All of us.
It is worth remembering: Peretz is just the preview. We have yet to taste Itamar Ben-Gvir.