Minister of Ignorance

Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz at a press conference in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2019
Ofer Vaknin

The remarks of Education Minister Rafi Peretz as reported in Yedioth Ahronoth Friday are another sad reminder of the moral nadir of the person entrusted by Israel’s government to oversee the country’s education system. He displayed a rare combination of ignorance and religious chauvinism on myriad topics — from proposals to introduce apartheid after annexing the territories, the defense of the electoral alliance with the racist Kahanists and the utter rejection of the LGBT community, to opposition to women serving in combat.

The distance between Peretz’s Zionist-Haredi worldview and anyone who cares about public education and liberal, democratic values is so vast as to be unbridgeable. On previous occasions when his comments drew sharp public criticism, Peretz claimed that they were misunderstood and he was forgiven. This time, he must not be pardoned for his remarks.

In the interview, Peretz boasted about his cooperation with Otzma Yehudit. “Itamar Ben-Gvir is no longer a Kahanist in the simple sense of the word,” the education minister said by way of defending a person who has a picture of the murderer Baruch Goldstein on his living room wall. “I feel there’s an exaggerated shunning and condemnation campaign against Ben-Gvir and his party.” To Peretz, it’s a matter of “rescuing the right,” which means guaranteeing immunity from prosecution for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is not the only moral abyss into which the education minister wants to drag Israel. He hopes for a right-wing government that will annex the occupied territories, far beyond those defined as Area C under the Oslo Accords, without extending rights to the millions of Palestinian inhabitants. Under the fallacious rubric of “good and normal life,” Peretz offers the Palestinians, at the very most, the right to vote in local elections. This approach, which is based on maintaining a clear civilian and military hierarchy between the lords of the land, who have full rights, and its slaves, who serve them, failed in the past and it will fail in the future.

Peretz’s attitude toward LGBT individuals also betrays a hierarchical worldview: There are LGBT people, and there are people who grew up “in a natural and healthy manner” in a “normal family [of] a man and a woman, in accordance with Jewish tradition.... There’s no need to be ashamed that we live in this natural way.” Only in a world as separate and disconnected as that of Peretz are different lifestyles seen as a threat to the “natural” order. Presumably that is also why he is so critical of Israel’s female combat soldiers. The war that Peretz seeks to declare against the Israeli-born children of migrants, whose only sin is not being Jewish, is another station for the education minister’s hate train.

The education system shapes the entire Israeli society. Peretz’s narrow and benighted worldview disqualifies him from serving as education minister.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.