Luxembourg PM boycotts Israeli event over minister’s conversion therapy remarks
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Luxembourg PM boycotts Israeli event over minister’s conversion therapy remarks

Xavier Bettel, who is gay, skips farewell dinner for Israeli envoy over Rafi Peretz’s support for potentially dangerous practice

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)
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)

The prime minister of Luxembourg boycotted an Israeli embassy event in protest of Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s apparent backing for conversion therapy aimed at “curing” homosexuals of their sexual orientation.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is gay, chose not to attend a farewell dinner for Israeli Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg Simona Frankel, Channel 12 reported Monday.

According to the report, Bettel informed Frankel that, while he respects her personally, he would not be able to attend an official Israeli event as long as a government minister openly supports gay conversion therapy.

The network cited participants at the event as saying the guest of honor’s last-minute cancellation made for an awkward gathering, with Bettel’s chair unoccupied at the head of the table.

Bettel, who married his partner four years ago, is considered a friend of Israel and visited the Jewish state twice in recent years.

Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, holds a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The issue of gay conversion was thrust into the spotlight this week after Peretz — a career educator — said during a TV interview that he had referred students to the treatment and saw it was “possible” to change their sexual orientation. His remarks to Channel 12 drew widespread criticism from the public and lawmakers across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The remarks by the education minister regarding the gay community are unacceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the government under my leadership,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “I spoke this evening with Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who made it clear that the Israeli education system will continue to accept all of Israel’s children… regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Protesters gathered in downtown Tel Aviv on Sunday to demand the resignation of the “homophobic” education minister. Another demonstration against Peretz was scheduled for Monday night.

Peretz 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.”

People participate at the annual Pride parade in Tel Aviv, on June 14, 2019 (Flash90)

Health officials around the world say that conversion therapy is scientifically dubious and possibly even dangerous. Gay conversion therapies, also called reparative therapies, have been strongly discouraged in Israel, the US, and elsewhere, with major health organizations pointing to what they term pseudo-scientific methods and the treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Though Israel’s Health Ministry advises against the therapy, agreeing that it is scientifically weak and potentially dangerous, no law limits the practice, which is still an accepted approach in some conservative and Orthodox circles.

Leading medical organizations in the US say there is no proof sexual orientation change efforts are effective, and that therapy can reinforce self-hatred, depression, and self-harm.

The Israel Psychological Association reached similar conclusions in a 2011 position paper, which the Health Ministry adopted in late 2014. But the association also endorsed a claim practitioners make, that “political correctness” likely prevents the funding and publication of studies examining the therapy’s potential effectiveness.

There have been several attempts to outlaw the practice since 2015, but ultra-Orthodox parties have repeatedly shot down the Knesset legislation.

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