Schools in Israel hold impromptu tolerance classes after education minister says being gay is not ‘natural’

Israel education minister Rafi Peretz

Schools in Israel have held impromptu “tolerance” classes for children in the wake of anti-LGBT+ comments by the country’s education minister.

Minister Rafi Peretz – who is also head of the Jewish Home party and a former chief rabbi in Israel’s Defence Forces – made the comments in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth.

Asked how he would respond if one of his own children came out as gay, he replied: “Thank God my kids grew up in a healthy and natural way… They’re building their families from Jewish values.”

He added later in the interview: “A normal family is as man and a woman… [We] don’t need to [be] ashamed that we live in this natural way.”

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, after Peretz made the comments, schools took the opportunity to open up discussion on LGBT+ acceptance among their students.

Following instructions from the head of the Tel Aviv’s education administration Shirley Rimon-Bracha, and with the with the support of Mayor Ron Huldai, many schools in the capital started the day with 15 minutes of discussion on the topic “tolerance, living together and variations on the concept of family”.

The Ma’ayan Shahar school in the Emek Hefer region north of Tel Aviv gave more time to the topic with homeroom discussions in which they provided students with copies of the interview. The school also encouraged older students to make speeches giving their opinions on the issue.

Many of the students were angry about Peretz’s anti-LGBT+ comments. One student defended his right to express his opinion, but was quickly followed by a 12th grader who said that he needed to take responsibility for the harm he was causing.

She said that he was not an ordinary citizen in Israel, he is the education minister and therefore subject to limitations when his opinions could harm LGBT+ children and families.

The school’s principal told the newspaper: “It was a respectful discussion in which all of the relevant points came up.”

Thelma Yelin High School in Givatayim even held a panel discussion where both LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ teachers from varying religious backgrounds discussed the anti-gay comments.

Peretz was slammed by both fellow politicians and LGBT+ activists over his comments.

Justice minister Amir Ohana, who is openly gay, said the comments were “miserable, dark and wrong”.

Israeli Labour representative Itzik Shmuli shared a photo of himself with his partner and son and wrote “this is what a ‘natural and healthy’ family looks like”, and Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz party called Peretz a “contemptible person”.