(JTA) — Israeli Education Minister Rafi Peretz, under fire for his support of “conversion therapy” for gays and for calling assimilation among U.S. Jews a “second Holocaust,” was slammed for not shaking hands with a teenage girl at an official event.
Peretz on Sunday gave a medal to the teen, Nguyễn Khánh Linh of Vietnam, without shaking her hand at the International Physics Olympiad. Then he gave medals to three other boys and shook their hands, Mako reported. Many Orthodox Jews refrain from any physical contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex for religious reasons.
A spokesperson told Mako that Peretz, a rabbi, did not intentionally refrain from shaking the girl’s hand, but “wasn’t aware of the rules of the ceremony. She was the first to come on stage and he wasn’t sure what the protocol was.”
Gadi Taub, an influential right-wing columnist and writer, on Monday called for Peretz to step down following that and other incidents.
“You’re extreme, even to many right-wingers, even to some deep right-wingers, and not only on gays. An extremist (of any side) shouldn’t be education minister,” Taub wrote to Peretz on Facebook.
Zehava Gal-On, a former leader of the left-wing Meretz party, said on 103FM that Peretz “doesn’t have a right to refuse to shake hands with women. It was a humiliation” to the visitor from Vietnam, she added.
Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich of Peretz’s United Right party and Shlomo Karai, a Likud lawmaker, defended Peretz. “There is nothing disrespectful about not shaking hands with a woman, because that’s what our faith tells us,” Smotrich said.
Peretz said in a television interview earlier this month that he supports gay conversion therapy and that he has used the practice to help homosexual youth.
During a Cabinet meeting on July 1, Peretz, who was appointed to the position last month, also called intermarriage a “second Holocaust.”
Both remarks triggered a storm of condemnations in Israel and abroad, including by people supportive of the government in which he sits.