Israel’s education minister is under fire after saying he believes that conversion therapy can be used to change a gay person’s sexuality.
Rabbi Rafi Peretz, leader of the country’s far-right Jewish Home Party, made the comments to Channel 12 News, noting that not only did he believe conversion therapy could work, but that he had performed it on religious students who had spoken to him about their sexuality, the Washington Post reports.
“I think it is possible,” Peretz said about changing a person’s sexuality. “I can tell you I have a very deep familiarity with this kind of education, and I have also done this.”
Peretz — who became education minister last month as part of a coalition deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — discussed how he had dealt with a student during their counseling session.
“I hugged him first, then uttered very warm words,” he said. “I told him that we needed to think about this, learn about this, observe this. The objective is for him first of all to know himself, and then I can give him the data.”
Netanyahu rejected Peretz’s comments in a statement, saying that the ultranationalist leader’s remarks “regarding the gay community are not acceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the government under my leadership.”
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Israel’s firs gay cabinet member, said in a statement that “[sexual orientation] does not require therapy nor conversion. Preconceived notions and ignorance require therapy and conversion.”
The National Association of LGBT in Israel demanded that Netanyahu fire Peretz for supporting conversion therapy, a widely debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity through counseling, talk therapy, or more extreme measures like shock therapy or aversion therapy.
“There is only one adequate response to such dark statements by the minister of education and that is to fire him immediately,” the organization said in a statement. “It is imperative to prevent Israeli girls and boys from exposure to the homophobic poison disseminated by one who is presumed to be involved with education and values.”
The Israel Psychiatric Association called Peretz’s comments “disgraceful and disturbing,” and affirmed that there is “no treatment that can replace a person’s sexual orientation.”
“Conversion treatments that purport to change sexual orientation, not only have been scientifically proved useless, [they] pose a danger, and cause serious harm to the patient’s psyche, a sense of failure that may even lead to suicide,” IPA chairman Zvi Fishel said in a statement.
Openly gay politician Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Israel’s left-win Meretz Party, slammed Peretz in a statement and said he should be removed from office.
“You are not a minister of education, but a minister of darkness,” he said. “You are not worthy of being responsible for the future of our children. You must be removed from being minister of education to a position where you will cause less damage.”
Peretz tried to clarify his remarks in a statement after the controversy erupted, but refrained from denouncing conversion therapy.
Instead, he said that during his years as an educator he had “met with students who were in terrible distress with regard to their sexual orientation and decided to request professional help to change.”
“The school system under my leadership will continue to accept all of the boys and girls in Israel, regardless of their sexual orientation,” he added.
Peretz’s comments have already caused a diplomatic issue for Israel. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is gay, pulled out of a farewell dinner for outgoing Israeli ambassador Simona Frankel due to Peretz’s support for conversion therapy, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Bettel said that while he respected Frankel’s work, he couldn’t take part in the dinner while a member of the Israeli government supported conversion therapy.