(July 16, 2019 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he had appointed Dr. Evan Cohen—founding chairman of Likud Pride, the party’s LGBTQ caucus—as his foreign press adviser.
Cohen was a wise choice for the role of explaining Netanyahu’s policies to the international media. The 51-year-old tenured teacher of linguistics at Tel Aviv University, who immigrated to Israel from South Africa at the age of 9, has been a vocal and articulate bilingual Likud activist for many years, writing op-eds in Hebrew and English, and participating in radio and television debates in both languages. It was a one-on-one TV interview with i24News on June 6, in fact, which reportedly gave Netanyahu the idea to hire him in the first place. And it’s no wonder, given Cohen’s ability to present the Likud’s worldview with clarity.
This has not prevented detractors from engaging in a campaign to cast aspersions on Netanyahu’s motives and Cohen’s credentials, however, particularly with the Sept. 17 Knesset elections looming so large.
The faulty ammunition being used in the “two-fer” attack is a scandal surrounding statements made by Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz on Saturday evening. During an interview with Channel 12’s Dana Weiss, Peretz—an Orthodox rabbi and a member of the Union of Right-Wing Parties—said that it is “possible” for homosexuals to be converted through therapy.
Netanyahu immediately responded by calling Peretz’s remarks “unacceptable” and asserting unequivocally that they “do not reflect my government’s position.” Netanyahu added that Peretz assured him that all girls and boys would continue to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual identity.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud Knesset member and Israel’s first openly gay cabinet member, strongly condemned Peretz, stating that the only phenomena in need of “conversion therapy” are “ignorance and prejudice.”
Likud Pride declared that it “stands behind Netanyahu’s objection to conversion therapy. Such treatments are cruel and illusory, spiced with homophobia, and have no place.”
The above sentiments were shared by most Israelis, including religious ones. Yet, never missing an opportunity to indulge in virtue-signaling, the left took ownership of the outrage. Part of this endeavor has included, as it always does, an onslaught by anti-Netanyahu pundits, politicians, performers and LBGTQ groups. But in this case, blaming the prime minister for the makeup of his government in general and for not firing Peretz in particular is especially disingenuous.
The coalition problems that led to the disbanding of the current Knesset and to the imposition of a new round of elections mere months after the public had its say in April would be exacerbated by yet another ministerial change at this time. Ousting Peretz, therefore, would be worse than pointless. And everybody knows it.
To obfuscate this political reality, the “anybody but Bibi” crowd concocted the narrative that Netanyahu really never really cared about gay rights, and that his appointment of Cohen, despite his so-called lack of “public diplomacy experience,” on the heels of Peretz’s offensive remarks was a cynical move. You know, calculated to shield himself from criticism, rather than what it actually was: geared towards conveying an intelligent and accurate portrayal of Israeli actions to a generally hostile world media. Anyone familiar with Cohen—and his husband and ideological ally, Omri Rosenkrantz—knows that few people are as prepared and qualified to fit that particular bill.
Since even Netanyahu’s enemies at home are fully aware that it takes weeks of bureaucracy to fill public-servant posts, they had to limit their baseless accusations to the “suspicious timing” of the announcement.
“The timing is irrelevant, and the appointment would have been criticized no matter when it was announced,” Cohen told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “I won’t play identity politics. I won’t play that game. [My sexual orientation] has nothing to do with the position I’ve been given.”
Herein lies the very crucial difference between the left and the right where LGBTQ activism is concerned. The latter correctly sees gay rights as part and parcel of a free-market society dedicated to individual liberty and merit-based achievements.
The former promotes groupthink, the nanny state, affirmative action, collectivism and intersectionality. It also exploits gender and sexual politics to bash Israel and America for being “homophobic,” while championing Palestinian and similarly oppressive entities that make Peretz and his ilk look like fashionable liberals in comparison.
But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Cohen.
Thankfully, explaining this very crucial distinction in every realm of Israeli domestic and foreign policy is now officially in his purview.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”