Thousands of high school students held a demonstration Wednesday protesting remarks last week by Education Minister Rafi Peretz in which he appeared to call same-sex marriage unnatural.
The students and teachers rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square under the slogan “Demanding Change.”
The demonstration was organized by student councils from several high schools, with buses bringing protesters to the event, Hebrew media reported.
One of the protest’s organizers, Hila Koren, 16, told Channel 13 television news that “we are thinking about our future.”
“Ministers and politicians who are supposed to be leading the country, who are supposed to represent all of the various communities and the different sexual tendencies, they can’t come along and say what is normal, they can’t come and trample entire communities, people with feelings and thoughts,” she said.
However, Koren made it clear that the demonstrators were not demanding that Peretz resign.
“We are not against Rafi Peretz, we are not against the ideas of anyone,” she said, but rather against the way political leaders have expressed themselves.
When the education minister defines “normal” as being heterosexual, it contradicts students’ education about tolerance and being considerate of others, Koren explained.
The Ynet news site reported that Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association, gave his support to the students.
Erez said he is “proud of the student council and the country’s students for their social involvement, and their moral stance of the right for every person to live as he wishes. With their actions they demonstrate exemplary practical citizenship.”
In an interview published over the weekend, Peretz was asked by the Yedioth Ahronoth newsapaper how he would respond if one of his children were gay.
“Thank God my kids grew up naturally and healthy. They’re building their families from Jewish values,” he responded.
“In the religious public that lives according to the Torah, a normal family is a man and a woman,” he continued. “[We] don’t need to be ashamed that we live in this natural way.”
His comments drew a storm of criticism including from his cabinet colleague, Justice Minister Amir Ohana.
Ohana, who is Israel’s first openly gay minister, called Peretz’s remarks “reprehensible, backwards and wrong” and said they “are not based on knowledge and facts, but rather on prejudice.”
The mayors of Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Givatayim criticized the education minister and announced that they had instructed the schools in their respective municipalities to open classes on Sunday with lessons on LGBT acceptance.
Peretz, a former IDF chief rabbi, 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 had seen it was “possible” to change their sexual orientation from being homosexual. He later walked back those remarks, saying he “utterly” opposes the “wrong and grave” practice.