Australian Jewish leaders slam Israeli minister

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

AUSTRALIAN Jewish leaders have condemned comments by Israel’s new Education Minister Rafi Peretz appearing to endorse gay conversion therapy.

In a July 13 interview with Israel’s Channel 12, the right-wing minister, who is an Orthodox rabbi and leader of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, said, “I think that it is possible to convert,” adding he had “deep familiarity” with the practice.

The remarks set off a volley of criticism in Israel, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing party Meretz, who described conversion therapy as a dangerous practice leading to youth suicide, and Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Israel’s first openly gay minister, who condemned the comments.

Peretz, already under fire for saying assimilation among US Jewry is “a second Holocaust”, later sought to walk back his remarks about gays, claiming he did not support gay conversion therapy but had said when “students contacted me and asked for guidance I referred them to professionals at their request and saw it was possible”. He subsequently claimed conversion therapy was “wrong and grave”. 

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block said, “It is bad enough to hear these ignorant prejudices expressed by private individuals from time to time, but it is utterly shameful, and brings discredit upon the State of Israel, when it is coming from an Israeli government minister.” 

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler stated, “It is unacceptable for an education minister, who is responsible for the school curriculum of a progressive and democratic country, to advocate scientifically discredited practices that cause untold damage to LGBTQ teens. It is right that these comments were widely rejected not just by Peretz’s political opponents but by his coalition partners including Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Michael Barnett, convenor of Jewish LGBTI advocacy and support group Aleph Melbourne, told The AJN his organisation “strongly condemns” attempts to change others’ sexual orientation. “A person’s sexual orientation is innate … Time and again sexual orientation change therapies have been proven to be not only ineffective, but outright dangerous. The Australian Psychological Society and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists both advise against the use of such therapies.”

Kim Gotlieb, president of NSW Jewish LGBTI group Dayenu, said, “It is outrageous to find that ‘aversion therapy’ is being proposed yet again, despite so much evidence regarding its lack of efficacy, coupled with the considerable suffering of those who have endured it.”