Opinion: Should Minister Peretz’s remarks be a fireable offense?

The overwhelming uniformity of thought surrounding this kerfuffle brings to mind George Carlin’s line about the demise of individualism and rise of a stifling political correctness.

By Gidon Ben-Zvi

Israeli Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz’s recent comments about gay conversion therapy have unleased a firestorm. Teachers are threatening to strike if their new boss doesn’t resign immediately, while outraged parents are vowing to remove their kids from the public school system.

For a fleeting moment, even Israel’s notoriously fractured political culture came together – to castigate Peretz for believing that it’s possible to convert someone from their homosexual orientation.

The overwhelming uniformity of thought surrounding this kerfuffle brings to mind George Carlin’s line about the demise of individualism and rise of a stifling political correctness: “Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name.”

There’s little to suggest that gay conversion therapy is anything other than a junk science. Reparative therapy practices have been rejected by virtually every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades. But it’s worth noting that therapists in Israel are allowed to practice conversion therapy, though the country’s Health Ministry advises against it. So what fireable offense did Israel’s Education Minister commit by believing in such voodoo?

Many otherwise intelligent, broad minded and professionally competent people continue to cling to debunked myths about human behavior. For example, the widely held belief that violent offenders usually have a diagnosis of mental illness isn’t backed up by science. Then there’s the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which sought to prove that any one of us can turn bad depending on the situation we happen to find ourselves in. But people who cite this as evidence that bad barrels trump bad apples should keep in mind that the Stanford Experiment has subsequently been proven to be seriously flawed.

The most famous instance of a once widely-accepted belief about the human condition being thoroughly invalidated is psychoanalysis.The idea that talk therapy could give people the power to treat themselves caught on like wildfire during the first two-thirds of the 20th century. The foundational principle of Freudianism is that our feelings are hidden from us, which is why we need to talk to a therapist about them. The goal of psychoanalysis is to bring those emotions to light in order to expose the destructive issues afflicting our unconscious minds.

Terms taken from Sigmund Freud’s work – mommy issues, daddy issues, arrested development, death wish, Freudian slip, penis envy, anal retentive, Oedipus Complex, defense mechanism and cathartic release have secured his place in the popular culture. But as a research paradigm, psychoanalysis is no longer considered a credible theory of human behavior.

As such, let those same passionate civil rights advocates who are calling for the ouster of a freshly minted government minister who stated a belief in a debunked theory be consistent in their righteous indignation. Will those same Israeli politicians and cultural elites who are calling for the head of Rabbi Rafi Peretz also demand that any elected official who at some point sought or recommended psychotherapy be fired? To lift a line from Pygmalion: “Not bloody likely!”

And while there’s zero evidence to suggest that Peretz intends to impose gay conversion theraputic practices on Israel’s public schools, the country’s thought police asserts that a government minister’s primary purpose isn’t to serve the citizenry but to avoid offending specific members of particular groups in Israeli society.

Selective moral outrage

The problem with this mandated on the job sensitivity is its inconsistent application. The late Shulamit Aloni said during her tenure as Education Minister that organized tours by Israeli high school students to concentration camps in Europe were transforming Israeli youth into aggressive, nationalistic xenophobes. Aloni asserted that these young Israelis “march with unfurled flags, as if they’ve come to conquer Poland.” Yet Aloni is lionized by Israel’s PC Police for her impartial dedication to human rights. Apparently, ‘impartial’ means downplaying the continued existence of the Jewish people despite Nazi attempts at their obliteration. Such a worldview tolerates Jewish survival while sneering at open displays of Jewish sovereignty.

By suggesting that their goals are noble, Israeli political and cultural elites are hiding the ball from the Israeli public. Terms like human dignity, tolerance for diversity and equality are the thin end of the wedge. Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peret’z ouster is sought not because of his muddled views on a debunked psychological practice but because of his views on the issue of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. In Israel, even moral outrage is selectively refracted through a political prism.

Epilogue: Irony of ironies. Peretz has undergone an overnight conversion therapy conversion. The good rabbi reversed course and has gone on record as opposing the psychological practice. Mind control: 1, Freedom to think freely and perhaps evolve over time: 0.

Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone. He contributes to several publications.