Israel’s new Education Minister Rafi Peretz, leader of the far-right Union of Right Wing Parties, caused international uproar when he compared intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the US to a “second Holocaust”, and later expressed his support for gay conversion therapy.
The criticism about the ”second Holocaust” comment was most vociferous abroad. Head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Jonathan Greenblatt said that “it’s inconceivable to use the term ‘Holocaust’ to describe Jews choosing to marry non-Jews”, that “it alienates so many members of our community” and that “this kind of baseless comparison does little other than inflame and offend.”
Criticism of the gay conversion therapy was most vociferous inside Israel, as the comment is now a mainstream offense in Israel (the new Justice Minister Amir Ohana of Likud is openly gay). Thus the new left-center Netanayhu rival Ehud Barak tweeted:
“*Netanyahu’s*Education Minister promotes conversion therapy for LGBT?! A medieval government?? Chaos and [Bezalel] Smotrich upon the abyss? Hello, here is Israel 2019. Bibi, you will convert no one. We will convert your government of darkness with an enlightened government, of equality, values and democracy”.
From the center, Blue and White opposition chief Benny Gantz said Peretz’s comments were “illegitimate” and said the right of every person to live as they see fit was “a cornerstone of Israeli democracy”. Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid tweeted that “until Rafi Peretz undergoes conversion treatment from his dark and insane opinions, he cannot continue serving as education minister.”
But as for intermarriage, this issue is far more complex in Israel, not least because leftists and centrists alike have expressed very similar opinions historically.
In the early 1970’s, Labor Prime Minister Golda Meir said that anyone who commits intermarriage is “joining the 6 million”, alluding to the Holocaust. That’s pretty much what Peretz said.
Last year, former Labor and opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that intermarriage is a “plague”, on his first day of work as head as head of the parastatal Jewish Agency. Herzog later disingenuously backpedaled, suggesting that “plague” meant something different than you’d think in Hebrew, which it doesn’t.
And the centrist ‘liberal’ Yair Lapid, who now condemns Peretz for his “insane” opinions about gays, has also expressed his dismay with intermarriage – and the context was frighteningly fascist: In the wake of a so-called “mixed marriage” that took place on August 17, 2014 (so-called because both partners were Muslim – the woman had simply converted from Judaism), at which the fascist Lehava ‘anti-miscegenation’ organisation had demonstrated, Lapid spoke on an Israel Waves radio program saying, “It would bother me if my son married a non-Jew… It would bother me greatly.”
This is the same conundrum that faced Yair Lapid recently, when he tweeted from the shower in favor of a “state for all its citizens” in response to Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Rafi Peretz’s nr. 2 in the party). When Lapid realized that he had just caused a major storm over equality, he tried to assert that he only meant rights for LGBT, not Palestinians.
The “Holocaust” notion about Jewish intermarriage is directly related to the “demographic” concern about Palestinian births endangering the Jewish majority. And it’s the same logic that makes a “state of all its citizens” such an indefensible idea. Israel may be liberal on LGBT, but it’s not liberal in relation to the demographic concern of Jewish superiority. This is why, although Prime Minister Netanyahu distanced himself from Peretz’s words about gays, he basically endorsed his claim about intermarriage in the cabinet meeting where they were said.
Peretz’s “Holocaust” euphemism has likewise been used by Israeli ministers in recent years to address the intermarriage issue:
Last year, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, member of the National Union, also a part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, sent a letter to employees at his ministry discussing the “assimilation Holocaust.” According to Ariel, “During the Holocaust, we’ve lost about six million Jews. Without at all comparing the two, we’re losing a part of our people to assimilation.”
Fellow National Union member Eli Ben Dahan said in 2014, while he was deputy minister for religious affairs that intermarriage is “a silent Holocaust. We must remember that the Jewish people, unfortunately, has gone through a Holocaust. It has been diminishing over the past century … In Europe we have as much as 80 percent intermarriages; in the United States it’s 66 percent. It’s horrible.”
The “demographic concern” is a mainstream Zionist racial concern. Essentially, the concern is not for people as such, but for their ability to serve as part of a potential body-count vs Palestinians. Although these Jews live abroad, for Israel they are a part of the “Jewish nation”, and thus eligible for immediate citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return. If that bank of bodies diminishes, Israel’s ability to uphold the Jewish racial body-count will diminish too.
The more liberal Zionists seek to separate this concern, which is inherently illiberal, inasmuch as it entails control over who you marry, from other issues such as attitudes towards LGBT. But since the illiberal demographic issue is so central to the perpetuation of Israel as the “Jewish state,” it is an Achilles heel that allows the more fundamentalist, religious Zionist forces to gain influence, and thus to insert other fundamentalist notions concerning gays etc.
It all goes back to Zionism’s inherently illiberal, colonialist and militarist vein. In the early 1970’s, Golda Meir was interviewed by Stewart Alsop for Newsweek, where Alsop asked about the “corrupting influence” of the 1967 occupation on “Liberal Jewish tradition”. Meir:
I’ll answer you honestly: I do not want a Jewish people who are liberal, anti-colonialist, anti-militaristic… and dead.
She knew then that the Zionist venture had to discount liberalism, that it was about colonialism and militarism, and that if you had a problem with that, you were just weak and you would die. Israel always offers “existential” excuses for its policies.
And Meir’s words echo not only in Rafi Peretz’s words, but also in the words of the Hitler-Praising rabbis in the military prep-school in Eli, a yeshiva institution that Rafi Peretz is a strong supporter of. Recently Rabbi Giora Radler was caught on tape saying the following:
The Holocaust for real is not about the killing of Jews – that’s not the Holocaust. All of these excuses claiming that it was based on ideology or that it was systematic, this is ridiculous. Because it was based on ideology, to a certain extent, makes it more moral than if people murdered people for no reason. Humanism, all the secular culture about us believing in the human, that’s the Holocaust. The Holocaust, for real, is being pluralist, believing in “I believe in the human”. That’s what’s called a Holocaust. The Lord (blessed be his name) is already shouting for many years that the [Jewish] exile is over, but people don’t listen to him, and that is their disease, a disease which needs to be cured by the Holocaust.
Israel’s push towards religious fundamentalism is not an incidental occurrence. It is a logical consequence of its inherently racist, illiberal character. In that light, the protection of LGBT rights serves as pinkwashing. Ehud Barak can talk about “equality”, but it’s not what he really means, just like Yair Lapid didn’t really mean it. Barak can extol “democracy”, but he means “Jewish and democratic”, that is, a democracy for Jews. The “equality” is for Jews (some say also LGBT Jews). Unless that greater racial and racist supremacist paradigm is addressed and relinquished, Israel will continue in this direction.