Israeli Education Minister Causes Uproar, Endorses Discredited Gay Conversion Therapy

Jul 15, 2019
Originally published on July 15, 2019 7:45 pm
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In Israel, the new education minister has caused an uproar by saying gay conversion therapy works. The practice has been widely discredited. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Education Minister Rafi Peretz is an Orthodox rabbi and heads a Jewish religious nationalist party. In an interview this weekend with an Israeli TV channel. He was asked whether a gay person could be converted to being heterosexual.

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RAFI PERETZ: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said, "I think it's possible" and that he had suggested it to one of his religious students. So-Called conversion therapy is widely discredited by researchers, and Israel's own health ministry has said it can inflict psychological harm. Other politicians condemned the comments, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it didn't reflect the position of his government. Peretz said he respects all students regardless of their sexuality and wasn't advocating the therapy, but the idea persists in Orthodox Jewish circles in Israel. Many groups that offer it don't promise a full conversion but say it helps people who want to lead traditional family lives in their conservative communities. That concerns LGBT activists.

NADAV SCHWARTZ: Unfortunately in the religious community, it is still a valid option.

ESTRIN: Nadav Schwartz is an activist in Israel's religious Jewish LGBT community. Schwartz sought out gay conversion therapy when he was 18 but today rejects the practice. He says in Israel, there are five different groups offering a form of the therapy to religious Jewish men and two groups for women. People who want to live as traditional Orthodox Jews marry a member of the opposite sex and raise a family. Liberal religious circles are becoming more openly accepting of their gay members, and Schwartz says increasingly gay religious Jews don't want to choose between their sexuality and their religious beliefs and religious garb they wear.

SCHWARTZ: Oh, wow, you can see today a lot of people wearing their tsitsiyot outside in gay party. It's a wonderful, wonderful experience seeing more and more yarmulkes.

ESTRIN: Today he says he's openly gay and accepted in his mainstream Orthodox synagogue, but that's not the case for everyone. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.