Canadian Friends of Peace Now is appalled, though not shocked, at statements made by Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz during a television interview on July 13.
The minister gave unabashed support for apartheid.
He said he wanted to see Israeli sovereignty imposed over all of “Judea and Samaria,” i.e. the West Bank, and when pressed about voting rights for Palestinians, admitted they wouldn’t have any. The interviewer then exclaimed “that’s called apartheid,” to which Peretz merely opined that reality is “complicated.”
The annexationist ambitions of the Union of Right Wing Parties, which Peretz leads, are no secret. Extreme right-wing politicians have been promulgating their Greater Israel vision for a long time, if not spelling out its details. Lately, they’ve been emboldened by a US administration that winks at their plans, by an Israeli Prime Minister desperate to cling to power through extreme-right support, by the indifference of Arab nations and by an Israeli public increasingly complacent or hard right when it comes to the Palestinian issue.
Peretz’ admission that an apartheid situation would be ok with him is no less disturbing for being predictable.
The Education Minister does have a penchant for outrageous comments. At a cabinet meeting on July 1 he said intermarriage of US Jews was “like a second Holocaust,” drawing rebukes both within Israel and from American Jewish leaders. The head of the Anti-defamation League decried the remark as irresponsible, disrespectful and trivializing of the Shoah.
An even greater uproar ensued from comments Peretz’ made, during the above-mentioned July 13 television interview, endorsing conversion therapy for gays and lesbians. The minister showed his antediluvian colours with his support for this long discredited notion of changing sexual orientation through “treatment.” Demonstrators marched in Tel Aviv calling for his resignation. School principals wrote objecting letters. Even Netanyahu was quick to distance himself. After all, another member of his cabinet, Justice Minister Amir Ohana, is openly gay.
Peretz has since backtracked and tried to reassure his critics he recognizes the harm conversion therapy can cause. He also retracted his intermarriage and Holocaust comparison, agreeing “it was not an appropriate term to use.” However, he has not recanted his West Bank annexation message. Sadly, this latter issue – the one with the most wide-ranging implications – is also the one that has sparked the least outcry.
That a high ranking Israeli cabinet minister can speak about keeping West Bank Palestinians disenfranchised in perpetuity without raising too many eyebrows shows how normalized this notion is becoming. This is a highly dangerous trend. The current occupation, though deplorable, is temporary under Israeli law and could still be reversed. Outright annexation would be a far more – to use Peretz’ term – “complicated” reality.