Israeli students protest after Education Minister’s anti-gay comments

Neil Ward via Flickr

Rafi Peretz had thanked God he’d raised his children in a “healthy and natural way”.

Israeli students have taken to the streets to protest against homophobic comments made by the Education Minister, Rafi Peretz. Last week, he claimed that as he’d raised his children in a “healthy and natural way” they wouldn’t be gay.

In a demonstration held yesterday (15 January), thousands of students took to the streets to protest against his remarks, under the slogan of Demanding Change.

Speaking on Israeli Channel 13 Television, one of the protest’s organisers, Hila Koren, who is aged 16, said: “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 explained that the protesters weren’t “against the ideas of anyone” but against the ways that political leaders were expressing themselves. She added that Peretz’s expression that homosexuality and same-sex marriage weren’t ‘normal’ went against the ways that schools taught tolerance and consideration of others.

The protesters receieved the backing of Ran Erez, the chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association who said he was “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.”

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Schools in the country also held impromptu tolerance lessons in the wake of Peretz’s comments, reports Haaretz. Many schools in Tel Aviv started the day with a 15-minute discussion on “tolerance, living together and variations on the concept of family.”

The discussion had been instructed by Shirley Ramon-Bracha, the head of Tel Aviv’s education administration, and approved by the mayor of the city, Ron Huldai.

Other schools also held debates on the subject, where many Israeli students condemned the comments that Rafi Peretz had made.

Last year, Rafi Peretz outraged many when he claimed that gay ‘conversion’ therapy was possible. On Channel 12 TV, he said: “I think that it is possible to convert [someone’s sexual orientation]. I can tell you that I have deep familiarity on the issue of education, and I have also done this.”

The so-called therapy, which has been discredited by the NHS and the World Psychiatric Association, refers to any attempt at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and often involves techniques like electroshock therapy or prayer.

Following the backlash, he sent a letter to school principals, saying: “I never thought, and certainly haven’t said, that this kind of therapy should be part of the educational system, and certainly have no intention of doing so.”

However, that apology now appears hollow, as he has since said that criticism of his comments had been “distorted.”

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