Middle East

Calls to sack Israel education minister over gay therapy comments

Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz. Source: AAP

Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz's comments about gay “conversion therapy” have been rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz has spoken of his belief in therapy to convert gays to heterosexuality, leading to calls for him to be sacked and protests on Sunday.

The comments late on Saturday in a television interview were only the latest controversial views voiced by the recently installed minister who heads a far-right party popular with Israeli settlers.

Asked by Israel's Channel 12 whether he was in favour of so-called conversion therapy and if he believed he could change a gay person, Mr Peretz, who is also a rabbi, said: "I think you can, I think you can". 

"I can tell you that I have a deep knowledge of education, and I have done it too," he said.

He then talked about a student who approached him and told him he was gay.

Mr Peretz's comments drew a disavowal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government’s religious-rightist tilt has worried liberals a home and backers abroad.

Conversion therapy, an attempt to alter sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological, spiritual and, in extreme cases, physical means, has been widely discredited in the West and condemned by professional health associations such as the American Medical Association as potentially harmful.

Giving an example of a gay person he said he had tended to, Mr Peretz said: “First of all, I embraced him. I said very warm things to him. I told him, ‘Let’s think. Let’s study. And let’s contemplate.’

The objective is first of all for him to know himself well ... and then he will decide.”

The remarks sparked furore in Israel’s centre-left opposition, which ahead of a September election has sought to cast Mr Netanyahu as enabling Orthodox indoctrination in a country whose majority Jews mostly identify as secular or of less stringent religious observance.

Israel’s LGBT Task Force, an advocacy group, demanded Mr Peretz be fired, saying in a statement his views were “benighted”.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shortly after the interview aired at the end of the Jewish Sabbath, Mr Netanyahu said he spoke to Mr Peretz for “clarification”.

“The education minister’s remarks regarding the pride community are unacceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the government that I head,” the premier said in a statement.

It was the second flap Mr Peretz had caused in less than a week after Israeli media reported that he had told fellow Cabinet members on Tuesday that the intermarriage of Jews and Gentiles in the Diaspora amounted to a “second Holocaust”.

The comparison stirred up anger among US Jews, who are mostly non-Orthodox, and drew a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, which said such statements cheapened the Holocaust.

Speaking to Channel 12, Mr Peretz described himself as striving to balance respect for others, no matter their sexual orientation, with his duties as a religious leader.

“I honour everyone as people. I admit that I, personally - I am a rabbi of Israel. Our Torah tells us other things. But that does not mean that I look about now and give them grades,” he said.

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