Editorial

Tell Me Who Your Cabinet Ministers Are

Protesters call for the ousting of Education Minister Rafi Peretz following gay conversion remarks, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 14, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

Benjamin Netanyahu’s tepid response to Rafi Peretz’s dangerous remarks in support of conversion therapy was insufficient. The prime minister said his education minister’s statements regarding the gay community were “unacceptable to me and don’t reflect the position of my government.” Netanyahu completely ignored Peretz’s benighted declaration about imposing Israeli sovereignty on the entire West Bank without giving the Palestinians voting rights, a silence that is tantamount to the acquiescence of the prime minister. The only way to genuinely distance himself from Peretz’s remarks is to fire him immediately.

Woe to a prime minister whose term is marked by such talk. Asked whether he believed it possible to change an individual’s sexual orientation, Peretz said “I think it’s possible. I can tell you that I have a very deep familiarity with the issue of education, and I have also done this.” Justice Minister Amir Ohana, an out gay man, responded by saying, “The Likud government will not support conversion therapy.”

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It’s difficult to believe that in 2019, the public conversation in “the only democracy in the Middle East” revolves around whether or not to support conversion therapy. It’s difficult to believe that the justice minister had to clarify that Likud opposes conversion therapy.

In the interview he gave to Dana Weiss on Israel Channel 12 News, Peretz also expressed his desire to apply Israeli sovereignty to the entire West Bank. “If it will be in stages, I don’t care – I want it to happen. It’s our land,” he said.

Regarding the Palestinians’ rights, he said, “We’ll fulfill all their needs; we’ll make sure they have it good, but they won’t be able to have political influence. Without the right to vote.” When Weiss asked, justifiably, if that didn’t constitute apartheid, he responded, “We live in a very complex reality in Israeli society and in the State of Israel, and we’ll have to find the solutions – where sovereignty will be, whether it applies to the people or to the land.”

While his benighted words about gays made waves, Peretz’s distorted understanding of civic got almost no response, as if it were not itself an expression of a sinister and dangerous worldview. The Palestinians don’t get a fraction of the sympathy that the LGBT community gets, which testifies to the erosion of Israelis’ civic consciousness with regard to the Palestinians. Woe to Israeli democracy when there is no rebuke of a cabinet member who says millions of people can live under Israeli sovereignty without the right to vote.

One mustn’t be fooled by Netanyahu’s condemnation of Peretz. Unless he fires the education minister, Peretz’s words must be regarded as if Netanyahu himself had said them. These are Netanyahu’s “natural allies,” the ones he promoted during the transition government, and they reflect the true spirit of the right-wing coalition he heads.

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