Rafi Peretz’s conversion disorder: 7 things to know for July 14
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Rafi Peretz’s conversion disorder: 7 things to know for July 14

The Jewish Home head comes out as a supporter of junky and harmful ‘gay conversion therapy,’ but even his political allies are not blind to how much damage he is doing

Jewish Home party chief Rafi Peretz at the party's primary headquarters in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)
Jewish Home party chief Rafi Peretz at the party's primary headquarters in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (Flash90)

1. Conversion aversion: Rafi Peretz is far from the first politician to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. But it’s perhaps been a while since anyone with a fairly significant ministerial position has taken it to such Andy Kaufman-esque heights.

  • Asked about gay conversion therapy in an interview with Channel 12, Peretz says that not only does he think it’s valid, he’s personally tried to “convert” people.
  • The reaction from activists, professionals, politicians — including some allied with him — and the twittering classes is swift and furious.
  • “Rafi Peretz needs to be converted to the 21st century,” Walla news quotes Blue and White MK Yael German, who was health minister when the ministry adopted a position paper recognizing the therapy as harmful and not based on science.
  • “’Gay conversion therapy’ has been widely discredited around the world,” the BBC notes dryly.

2. Junk therapy: Many of those reacting note that not only is the process wrongheaded, it can lead to depression and even suicide.

  • “The education minister, through his unfortunate statements, is endangering the lives of many,” Zvi Fishel, the head of the Israel Psychiatric Association, is quoted as saying in Haaretz.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Ayala Katz, the mother of Nir Katz who was slain in a 2009 shooting at a Tel Aviv club for gay youth, says she knows cases in which people have taken their own lives after being forced to undergo such treatments.
  • “When you come to people and tell them ‘listen, you are so bad, so terrible, it is so out of bounds for you to be who you are’ — it simply destroys a person. So our education minister wants to destroy people, and on purpose.”

3. No pride for Peretz: It’s not only the usual suspects who slam Peretz, but also those who might have been considered his supporters.

  • Justice Minister Amir Ohana of Likud is widely quoted saying he “fully condemns” Peretz’s statement and his supposed clarification.
  • Even a Jewish Home source is quoted striking out at Peretz. “Peretz’s historic role as head of the Jewish Home party is done. The Jewish Home party was supposed to be a party that understands the Israeli reality and doesn’t try to ram into it like a car into a wall,” the source is quoted saying in Israel National News.
  • On Facebook, Makor Rishon writer Ariel Schnabel writes, “It’s too bad secular people think many in the religious community believe in conversion therapy. Because it’s not true. So you believe in conversion therapy, Rabbi Peretz? That’s your problem.”
  • Even Kahanist and Otzma Yehudit would-be politician Itamar Ben-Gvir gets in a shot, telling Israel Radio that “he didn’t mean it. He’s new and hasn’t interviewed much.”

4. Party pooper: Anger at Peretz is also palpable in the right-wing press, though more over what he has done to the once thriving party.

  • What mention there is of his conversion comments is couched in a more forgiving light, like Israel National News, which in English runs the headline “First I would hug him and speak to him warmly,’ quoting what Peretz said he would do if a student told him he was gay.
  • In the same outlet, columnist Ariel Reichert says Peretz should resign and make room for Ayelet Shaked, since he is not a politician who is willing to compromise when needed, though he seems to have no problem with Peretz continuing to work his mumbo jumbo on the impressionable minds of the youth.
  • “You’re not a politician. That’s good because we need people like you when the youth turn their eyes upwards…. You’re not a politician, you don’t understand the people, don’t understand how to speak to people in parlor talks in their homes in Tzahala, in Yokne’am, in Eilat,” he writes. “You’re no politician, and I don’t want you to be one. I want you to be what you are, a leader, an educator, someone leading the youth.”
  • Makor writer Netanel Bandel jokes on Twitter that “quietly, quietly, and without you noticing Peretz has put Jewish Home under conversion therapy. From a party to a former party.”
  • Perhaps most incensed of all is writer Aryeh Yoeli: “His opinions on LGBTQ don’t matter. He won’t change anything in the Education Ministry. So what was so bad? That he made the comments on a program that airs on Shabbat. Shabbat Parshat Balak ended at 8:30, a half hour after the program began. How is he not embarrassed to purport to be a rabbi, who pretends to represent religious Zionism, to crush the value of Shabbat like this.”

5. Just talking: Israel Hayom has Peretz on its front page like everybody else, but for a story on him asking Shaked for a sit-down to see if they can convert her ultimatum to let her run the party into a deal.

  • A source close to Peretz tells the paper that it doesn’t see Shaked’s demand to put out or get out as an ultimatum, but rather a plea at crunch time to unify their forces.
  • “We don’t deal with ultimatums and stuff like that. We are sitting and talking and trying to reach an understanding,” the source says.
  • Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord, also on the unification train, says Shaked should be happy to get No. 2 in a unified slate.
  • “Should Shaked accept the No. 2 position in the party, this will be something of a political resurrection for her. She was done for, but now she is back again. In order to realize her political dream, she will need to switch over to Likud. But since that hasn’t happened, the United Right’s offer is the best thing she can hope for,” he writes.
  • The Kan news outlet reports that Shaked’s erstwhile partner Naftali Bennett has been offered the job of UN ambassador, but according to Likud, it does not appear to be moving forward. In any case, Netanyahu cannot actually appoint him as envoy now since he is only a caretaker prime minister.

6. Never again: This latest scandal for Peretz comes as his last one, over calling intermarriage a “second Holocaust,” has yet to die down.

  • “My brother also married a goy, with whom he lives in the killing fields of the U.S. Holocaust. They have two sons. Every day I spend hours erasing their faces from photos on the family WhatsApp group,” an acerbic Rogel Alpher writes in Haaretz. “Each time I meet them I rend my shirt, fast and wear sackcloth and ashes. For some reason, my applications to commemorate them in Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names keep getting refused.”
  • But writing for ToI, Matt Lebovic notes that this “second Holocaust” talk is nothing new, especially to US Jews, with it breaking into the open in 1990 following the release of a National Jewish Population Survey that showed sky-high assimilation rates.
  • “During the months following the NJPS ‘bombshell,’ some Orthodox leaders began to use the term ‘second Holocaust’ or ‘silent Holocaust’ to describe the study’s findings. Until that point, the term ‘second Holocaust’ was generally associated with attempts by Arab countries to destroy Israel, and not American Jewish demography,” he writes, adding that some using the term were not religious at all.

7. Is there any non-Peretz news in the press? Sure.

  • Jerusalemites are fretting over the closure of a road near the entrance to the city, which will be shut for three years to make room for a new commercial project. “Traffic is being shunted to alternate roads, which are already overfull,” Channel 12 news reports.
  • Just for helicopter moms, Yedioth writes that August is coming up, and according to statistics, it’s the month kids are most likely to be killed or injured in traffic accidents. According to the stats compiled by the Or Yarok, 49 kids have been killed and another 6,000 hurt in July and August over the last decade. The most dangerous time? Friday between 4 and 7 p.m.
  • In the Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov takes a deep dive into “the new anti-Semitism,” which united the far right and far left.
  • In Haaretz, though, Ilana Hammerman writes that in Germany, criticism of Israel is being shut down under the guise of being anti-Semitic, employing a bit of choice verbiage that is either deliciously subversive or totally tone-deaf: “This evil new ghost is now stalking Germany. Those pulling the strings sit in Israel, the hands holding the strings are those of the Israeli government, the Mossad and intelligence, which allocate huge sums for this activity. But those responsible, politicians from the entire spectrum, sit in Germany.”
  • And for something completely different, ToI’s Jessica Steinberg writes about how brides and grooms are trading out something blue for something green, with weddings going up in smoke.
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