Education Minister Rafi Peretz came under fire Friday for an interview where he appeared to call same-sex marriage unnatural and defended an alliance with an extreme-right politician, saying he was not really a Kahanist anymore.
Peretz, head of the Jewish Home party and a former IDF chief rabbi, has caused several outcries over homophobic comments and again raised the ire of LGBT activists and lawmakers by suggesting gay marriage was not natural.
“In the religious public that lives according to the Torah, a normal family is a man and a woman,” he said in an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. “[We] don’t need to ashamed that we live in this natural way.”
Peretz was also asked how he would respond if one of his children was gay.
“Thank God my kids grew up naturally and healthy. They’re building their families from Jewish values,” he said.
The comments were met with heavy criticism, including from a number of gay Knesset members.
“Look, Rabbi Rafi [Peretz], this is what a ‘natural and healthy’ family looks like,” Labor MK Itzik Shmuli wrote in tweet that included a photo of him with his partner and their son.
Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz called Peretz a “contemptible person” who he said was pandering to the far-right ahead of general elections in March.
“Who are you to tell me how to live my life?” Horowitz wrote on Twitter.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who was military chief when Peretz was the IDF’s top rabbi, said if he was prime minister he would not tolerate such views.
“In our country in the year 2020, an education minister needs to hold views that respect all children in Israel — for their religion, sexual orientation and nationality,” he said.
The LGBT umbrella organization Aguda called Peretz’s comments “irresponsible” and said they were providing an opening for homophobia and anti-gay violence.
“It is unfortunate that all that will be remembered of your tenure as education minister is hatred, ignorance and a lack of action,” Aguda said in a statement.
Peretz last year faced strong criticism for voicing support for conversion therapy, explaining in a TV interview how he had referred students to the treatment and saw it was “possible” to change their sexual orientation.
He later walked back those remarks, saying he “utterly” opposes the “wrong and grave” practice.
In the Yedioth interview, Peretz called criticism of those comments “distorted” and said it was the hardest thing he has dealt with since entering politics last year.
He also defended his recent electoral pact with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, whose leaders include self-described disciples of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
“[Otzma Yehudit leader] Itamar Ben Gvir has come a long way since the Kahane period. He is no longer a Kahanist in the simple meaning of the word,” Peretz said.
“Ben Gvir is a very soft person, relaxed, humane and considerate. He’s mellowed,” he said.
The party supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.
Ben Gvir is an attorney-activist known for representing Jewish terror suspects.
Long considered far outside the political mainstream, Otzma Yehudit ran last April with Jewish Home and the National Union party on a united electoral slate brokered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prompting widespread criticism of the premier in Israel and among leading American Jewish groups.
Netanyahu pushed unsuccessfully to include Otzma Yehudit in an alliance of national-religious parties for a second round of elections in September, in which the party failed to enter the Knesset.
With the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit party currently forecast to come up short of the minimum electoral threshold, Peretz has been holding talks with National Union and the New Right party to run together in the March 2 elections.