'Are you aware of how conversion therapy looks in Iran?'

Israel’s gay justice minister to Luxembourg’s gay PM: You shun us, but not Iran?

After Xavier Bettel skips Israeli ambassador’s sendoff to protest gay conversion therapy comments by Education Minister Rafi Peretz, Amir Ohana calls out apparent double standard

Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019. (Courtesy Justice Ministry)
Justice Minister Amir Ohana at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, June 14, 2019. (Courtesy Justice Ministry)

Justice Minister Amir Ohana took Luxembourg’s prime minister to task Tuesday over his boycott of a farewell dinner for the Israeli ambassador a day earlier.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is gay, said he did so in protest of comments by Israel’s education minister over the weekend in support of the practice of “conversion therapy” for homosexuals.

But while Ohana, who is also gay, noted that Rabbi Rafi Peretz’s comments were “denounced and strongly condemned by many,” including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he also wondered why Bettel did not take such an approach with the leaders of Iran — a country known for its severe punishments for gays, from lashings to executions.

Posting a photo of Bettel shaking hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, Ohana asked if Bettel was “aware of how conversion therapy looks like in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

He attached a second screenshot of a news report in which Zarif defended Iran’s death penalty for homosexuals.

According to a Channel 12 news report Monday, Bettel informed outgoing Ambassador Simona Frankel that, while he respected her personally, he would not be able to attend an official Israeli event as long as a government minister openly supports gay conversion therapy.

Bettel is considered a friend of Israel and visited the Jewish state twice in recent years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a press conference with Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel at the Prime Minister’s Office, in Jerusalem on September 12, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

In an interview aired on Israeli television on Saturday, Peretz said he had referred religious homosexuals to undertake the “therapy,” which is viewed by psychologists as dangerous and harmful to the mental health of individuals who undergo it.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz, chairman of the Jewish Home party, speaks at a party meeting on June 19, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

Peretz was roundly rebuked for his comments — including by Netanyahu and several ministers — and numerous members of the opposition called for his resignation.

He later claimed his remarks had been misunderstood and misrepresented, and specified that when “students contacted me and asked for guidance, I referred them to professionals at their request and saw it was possible,” but “I did not say I support conversion therapy.”

In Iran homosexuality is a taboo topic. Gays and lesbians there can face lashings or death sentences if convicted. Human rights groups estimate that over 4,000 gays have been executed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Islamic Republic does recognize transgender people, however. The Shiite theocracy’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, 30 years ago calling for respect of transgender people, opening the way for official support for gender transition surgery. Still, they remain largely ostracized by society.

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