Education Minister Rafi Peretz’s endorsement of gay conversion therapy was at the center of international controversy when, allegedly in response to Peretz’s statements, Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, boycotted an official Israeli diplomatic event.
Peretz, and Orthodox rabbi, made his remarks in an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday evening. When asked if he thought conversion therapy could be effective, Peretz responded, “I think it is possible. I can say that I have a deep understanding of the subject of education and I have done it. “
This comment caused gay-rights advocates in Israel to call for the dismissal of Peretz but the ramifications extended outside of the Middle East. A farewell dinner was held on Monday night in honor of the Israeli ambassador to Brussels and Luxembourg Simona Franke. The event was attended by the heads of the country’s Jewish community, representatives of the Israeli government and Israel’s honorary consul in Luxembourg. PM Bettel was invited but canceled his invitation to the event, explaining that he was protesting the Israeli government’s appointment of a minister advocating conversion therapy. It should be noted that Peretz was not in attendance. Bettel is openly gay and four years ago became the first European Union leader to marry a same-sex partner.
Gay rights is a central issue for Bettel. In February, Bettel attended an EU-Arab League summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. In his address to the attendees, Bettel generated consternation when he said that his same-sex marriage would condemn him to death in some of their countries. Homosexuality is punishable by death under sharia law and this is enforced in many Arab countries around the world, including those represented at the summit.
Bettel is frequently described as a friend of Israel. In 2015, Bettel officially apologized for his country’s role in the Holocaust. In 2016, Bettel became the first official from his country to visit Israel. After his two day visit, he paid an official visit to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. While there, he visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat. This visit came one year after Bettel met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Luxembourg.
It should be noted that despite his clear stand on gay rights being a central, no-compromise issue for Israel and other Arab countries, this issue has never been raised in Bettel’s relations with Palestinian leaders. Homosexuality is illegal in the Gaza Strip but not in areas under Palestinian influence in Judea and Samaria. Gay rights are not protected in either and there are no laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination or harassment. In the light of Bettel’s boycott of an Israeli event, it is ironic that hundreds of gay Palestinians are reported to have fled to Israel because of the hostility they face in Palestinian areas.
Luxembourg contributes to the support of UNRWA and condemns Israeli settlements. Last year, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn gave an interview in which he said that if a larger country recognizes Palestine, his would as well.
Peretz is outspoken and no stranger to controversy. He served in the IDF as a helicopter pilot, achieving the rank of brigadier general in the IDF and serving as the military’s chief rabbi. In 2014, while serving in that post, he gave a lecture, noting that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran and Islam does not consider the Temple Mount to be a Holy site. Peretz was castigated by the left-wing despite the accuracy of his statements.
Peretz is married and has 12 children. He lived in the Gush Katif settlement of Bnei Atzmon until the Israeli government forcibly removed all of the Jews from the region in 2005.