Israel’s new minister of education, Rafael Peretz, appears to have a penchant for spouting nonsense.
Peretz, appointed to his position in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government last month, stirred anger when he likened Jewish intermarriage around the world as a “second Holocaust.”
He compounded his maladroitness by endorsing “conversion therapy” for gay young men and claiming he had performed this type of therapy — which has been widely debunked by the medical profession in general and criticized in particular by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Certainly, Israel’s gay community was outraged by Peretz’s foray into ignorance.
Taken aback by the fierce backlash, Peretz — an Orthodox rabbi, a career educator and the leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties — retracted his foolish statements.
Responding to Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog’s request for a clarification, Peretz confessed that his description of Jewish intermarriage as a “second Holocaust” had been improper, and wrote that he did not mean to offend Jews in the Diaspora.
“Out of deep concern for the fate of the Jewish people, I made use of the word ‘Shoah,’ an expression which was meant to express the depths of the agony, and probably was not proper. It goes without saying that I had no intention of insulting a single person in the Diaspora,” he wrote in a letter to Herzog.
And in another letter to teachers and principles, Peretz claimed that he had never recommended “conversion therapy” and that he viewed it as an incorrect practice.
As he put it, “I know conversion therapy is wrong and grave. This is my unequivocal position. I understand that this is an invasive treatment that is unsuitable for the human psyche, causes those treated more suffering than relief, and can even put people’s lives in peril and cause suicidal tendencies.”
“I never thought, and certainly did not say, that such therapy should be introduced into the education system,” he added in an important caveat.
In closing, Peretz said his comments had been misunderstood and misrepresented.
I doubt whether he is telling the whole truth.
Peretz spoke clearly and firmly in elucidating his inappropriate opinions. He left no room for misunderstandings. Nor were his critics guilty of misrepresenting his views.
The long and short of it boils down to this: Peretz recanted because he realized he was completely out of step, could not take the heat, and feared his job may have been in jeopardy.
Netanyahu himself rejected his remarks as “unacceptable” and not reflective of his government.
The justice minister, Amir Ohana, the first openly gay member of an Israeli government, said, “Sexual orientation does not require correction or conversion. Ignorance and prejudice require conversion.”
Nitzan Horowitz , the gay leader of the Meretz Party, was just as dismissive. Peretz is “not a minister of education,” he declared, “but a minister of darkness.”
Yair Lapid, one of the principals of the Blue and White Party, recommended his removal from his post.
In his latest verbal volly, Peretz, an annexationist, has called for the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over all of “Judea and Samaria.” When asked whether Palestinian Arabs would be granted voting rights if Israel annexed the West Bank, he answered in the negative. His reply prompted the interviewer to describe his plan as “apartheid.” Peretz conceded his scenario is “complicated.”
To be sure, “complicated” is an understatement.
Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would absolutely kill all hopes for a rapprochement with the Palestinians, could possibly trigger a third Palestinian uprising, and would inexorably lead to a binational solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
So far, Peretz’s ruminations about the future of the West Bank have not aroused an outpouring of indignation. But they are just as misguided and ill-informed as his comments on intermarriage and “conversion therapy.”
It is a sad commentary on Israeli politics and Israel’s future that such an unenlightened person was chosen to be its chief educator.
He should be replaced as soon as possible.