The racist pedagogy of Israel's education minister, Rafi Peretz

Israel's homophobic education minister Rafi Peretz peddles a vile doctrine, racist to its core
6 min read
18 Jul, 2019
Comment: While homophobia might be unacceptable in some company, demands for racial purity and religious discrimination are shockingly commonplace in Israel, writes David Sheen.
Israelis rally against Education Minister Rafi Peretz following his remarks on 'gay conversion therapy' [AFP]
In recent days, the fanatical far-right views of Rafi Peretz have garnered an unusual amount of international attention.

After it was widely reported that Israel's new education minster advocated attempting to "convert" LGBTQ youth to heterosexuality, he buckled under a torrent of criticism and walked back his homophobic remarks.

Peretz's flip-flop, however, was evidence of two truisms today in Jewish-Israeli society. The first: That though the queer community is hated here by many, especially on the religious right, it is still a political force to be reckoned with, and will not be pushed back into the closet.

The second truism: That while homophobia might be unacceptable in some company, demands for racial purity and religious discrimination are shockingly commonplace in Israel, and almost unremarkable in the media.

We know this because that same week, Peretz also called romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews "a second Holocaust".

And in the very same interview  as his "conversion" comments, Peretz also advocated annexing the entire West Bank and instituting outright "apartheid" on Palestinians.

Those abominable comments elicited hardly any pushback, neither in Israel nor abroad.

In truth, the problems with Israel's education system are deep-seated, and long predate the appointment of Peretz. For decades, Israeli textbooks depicted Palestinians as primitive, or else as terrorist threats, even in secular schools.

The ascension of Rafi Peretz to the office of education minister is certain to make the problem far worse

But in the last decade, since Benjamin Netanyahu reassumed the position of premier in 2009, all four education ministers he has appointed have been Orthodox Jewish men. Under their supervision, class curriculum endorsing pluralism was eroded in favour of content praising and expressing a preference for uniformity.

And the ascension of Rafi Peretz to the office of education minister is certain to make the problem far worse.

To understand the values that Peretz represents - and which he hopes to inculcate in the minds and hearts of all Israeli youth - one must do more than parse his public statements, which are bad enough, in and of themselves. 

To interpret the Torah of Rafi Peretz, one must ask who are the educators and educational institutions that he is most closely affiliated with, and what values are they teaching behind closed doors.

The philosophy of this sector of society is most readily observed in the illegal settlement of Eli in the occupied West Bank, at the Sons of David Academy at the infamous flagship yeshiva where Torah and Talmud are taught to Israeli soldiers.

In April 2019, Israeli TV Channel 13 News broadcast an expose featuring video evidence of lectures delivered to students at Sons of David. There, the institute's top rabbis were seen and heard preaching some of the vilest doctrines of racial and religious supremacy that one could ever imagine.

Enter Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, who outlined the academy's views on non-Jews generally, and those living in the land, specifically: The Palestinian people.

"Ask any simple Arab where he wants to be. He wants to be under the occupation," says Kashtiel.

Kashtiel goes on to note that this submissive status is not nearly lowly enough for them. "The non-Jews will want to be our slaves," Kashtiel tells his students.

"Due to the abolition of legal slavery, there are now deficiencies, since no one is responsible for the property," says Kashtiel. "With the help of God, it will return."

These ideas are so blatantly racist that they invite immediate comparisons to the most horrific epochs in Jewish history. How could rabbis call to reinstitute human slavery? Have they not learned anything from the horrors of the Holocaust?

Have no fear, the Sons of David faculty have furnished an answer to this question, as well: "The Holocaust wasn't really about killing the Jews. That's not the Holocaust," says Rabbi Giora Redler. "The REAL Holocaust is to be pluralistic, to believe in man. THAT is called Holocaust."

Within the walls of the academy, Jewish students are taught the unfathomable: It is not waging genocide, but rather seeking peace, that is the worst possible moral evil.

"There is the masculine world, that wages war, that is concerned with respect. And there is the soft, moral, feminine world, of turning the other cheek. And [the Nazis] think that it's the Jews that carry on that tradition, trying - in [their] words - to ruin all of humanity, and therefore they are the real enemy," says Redler.

The institute's top rabbis were seen and heard preaching some of the vilest doctrines of racial and religious supremacy that one could ever imagine

The Channel 13 video reveals that Redler even exonerated Hitler himself. "Was Hitler right or not? He is the most righteous person possible. Of course Hitler was right in every word he said."

If, by Sons of David standards, Nazi ethics are unimpeachable, Palestinians must be subjugated as literal slaves, and making peace with them is considered to be evil incarnate, then what is to be done with those Jews who see non-Jews as their equals, and reject this racist dogma?

Read more: Israeli minister sparks outrage for saying 'gays need therapy'

The academy's Rabbi Yosef Kelner provides the answer in another online video: Summary execution. "To not follow the Torah and commandments is lack of morality and national treason," says Kelner.

"So now, can a nation protect itself from the traitors within?" he asks his students, then answers his own question. "For those who betray them, every sanction is legitimate - up to a bullet in the head."

In the run-up to the last national elections which catapulted Peretz into the Knesset, Israel's parliament, the academy permitted neither Netanyahu nor Peretz's predecessor, former Education Minister Naftali Bennett, to give guest lectures to their pupils. That prestigious honor was strictly reserved for Rabbi Rafi Peretz, their political leader of choice.

Sadly, this seminary of hate is no outlier

Sadly, this seminary of hate is no outlier; in 2016, its founder and present-day director Eli Sadan was granted the Israeli Prize, the state's highest award.

If there were any remaining doubts about Peretz' odious ideology, he dispelled them this week when his ministry co-sponsored a ceremony honoring another arch-racist Israeli rabbi, Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

Ginsburgh is the author of "Baruch HaGever," a book that lionizes Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 committed the worst mass murder of Palestinians by a single gunman in history.

He was also the rabbi who published "The King's Torah," a religious manual that grants Jews the license to kill any non-Jew that they fear may one day threaten them, even babies.

Casual observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are unlikely to have noticed this last news item, seeing as it did not receive even a thousandth of the press coverage given to Peretz professing, and then backtracking, on his homophobia.

Local anti-racists who have warned about Peretz for years, however, were not surprised.

In 2016, when he was the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Army, Peretz bestowed his prestige upon the author of "The King's Torah," Yitzhak Shapira, joyously dancing with him at his daughter's wedding.

Idolising assassins and loathing leftists, inverting the Holocaust and justifying genocide: these are the ideas that Israel's national religious camp imparts to its students, the ideas that they wish to instill in all Jewish youth, in Israel and abroad.

For over a decade, Netanyahu has presided over this insidious process. But now with Rafi Peretz as education minister, we can expect it to occur even quicker.

David Sheen is an independent journalist originally from Toronto, Canada and now based in Israel. 

Follow him on Twitter: @davidsheen

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.