When the leader of the Jewish Home, Israel’s national-religious party, expressed support for the long-discredited “gay conversion therapy”, liberal Israeli society protested, and Rafi Peretz felt compelled to publicly walk back his statement. However, Peretz’s declaration - made in the very same media interview - that Israel should annex Area C was overwhelmingly ignored by liberal Israelis.
Dipping his toes into the murky waters of the Israeli media for the first time following his June appointment as Israel’s Education Minister, on July 13 Rabbi Rafi Peretz (Jewish Home), gave a ranging, three hour interview to Channel 12 reporter Dana Weiss.
When asked if he believed LGBTQ people “who have such a tendency can be converted”, Peretz replied that "I think it's possible." "I can tell you I have a very deep knowledge of education and I did it," he added.
This statement sparked an outcry from Israeli liberals, who demonstrated in Tel Aviv and lit up social networks with their outrage at Peretz’s stance. Political opponents called on Peretz to resign. Even Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu joined the fray, issuing a statement that “the education minister’s remarks about the gay community are not acceptable and do not reflect the stance of the government I head.”
While Netanyahu openly courts and joins forces with religious-conservative political parties such as the Jewish Home, the United Torah Judaism and Shas, which promote homophobic positions and legislation, he knows that his country’s use of pinkwashing to paint over the occupation must continue. Difficult to continue talking up Israel as the only safe place for the LGBTQ+ community in the Middle East if your education minister makes such public proclamations.
Following the outcry, Peretz complained that his three hour interview was reduced to inaccurate and unrepresentative sound bites, writing later on Facebook that “I did not say I support conversion therapy.”
In this very same interview, however, Peretz told Weiss that "I want to impose Israeli sovereignty on all of Judea and Samaria," using the accepted Israeli name for the occupied West Bank. "If it happens in stages, I don’t mind - I want it to happen. This is our land," he added. When asked about the rights of the Palestinians living in “Judea and Samaria”, Peretz responded that "we'll take care of all their needs, we'll take care that it will be good for them, but they will have no political decision-making capability. There will be no right to vote at the national political level."
Clear and simple. No national sovereignty for the Palestinian people. No Palestinian state. No equal political and civil rights. No universal franchise.
There was a muted response by Israeli political leaders and liberal social groups to this bald faced support of apartheid. Mainstream media devoted little coverage to the objections that were made. And even when commenting, critics often wrapped in additional issues, a statement against apartheid deemed insufficient to stand on its own. “I do not know how to explain an education minister who talks about conversion therapy, who opposes joint [military] service for men and women or who honesty says he has no problem with apartheid,” tweeted MK Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White Party.
This represents a clear testament of the extent to which talk of formal annexation and explicit rejection of a Palestinian state and national sovereignty have become a normalized part of Israeli public discourse. A poll conducted by the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz before Israel’s April 2019 national elections revealed that even center-left wing voters who support a two state solution (not defined) do not rule out this scenario. 80 percent of Labor voters who answered the poll support a two state solution, but only 41 percent oppose any annexation of the West Bank while another 46 percent say they support annexing Area C. Among respondents who vote for Meretz, Israel’s most left wing Zionist party, 14 percent favor the annexation of Area C, while 14 percent support annexing the entire West Bank if Palestinians are granted political rights.
It goes without saying that Netanyahu did not comment on this part of Peretz’s interview. Not a word. Peretz is part of the newly formed Union of Right Wing Parties which includes (to date) the Jewish Home, a party identified with Israeli settlers, and the New Right, a breakaway from the Jewish Home led by ultra-conservative former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. While public opinion polls in Israel conducted so far ahead of the elections are by definition speculative, the Union is currently seen as winning 12-13 Knesset seats (out of 120) in the September 17, 2019 elections. An important future coalition partner for Netanyahu, undoubtedly.
Cynical electoral considerations aside, Netanyahu’s silence on Peretz’s statement reflects to some extent his own thinking. Just last month Netanyahu declared that the West Bank is Israel’s homeland, which it will continue to build and develop, that no settlements will be uprooted in any political agreement, the Israeli army will continue to rule over the entire area and that he is working on attaining international ratification for these principles. US Ambassador David Friedman also publicly stated last month that Israel has the right to retain some, if not all, the West Bank.
Israelis are told by almost all political parties and the popular media that no negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible. Some Israelis prefer to keep their head in the sand and maintain the status quo, rendered temporarily possible as the current price paid to maintain the occupation is deemed acceptable by much of Israeli society. Israelis on both the right and center-left support unilateral moves, including the annexation of parts of the West Bank, in various forms and for various reasons. Election campaigning in Israel is almost non-existent in this hot August, as people prefer to enjoy their holidays, although it is expected to ramp up in September. It appears that Israeli public election discourse, even by the center-left Zionist parties, will focus on internal issues, including the country’s rampant corruption and increasing encroachment of Jewish law in legislation and the public sphere. A discussion of Israelis, between Israelis and supported by current American policies. Where are the Palestinians?