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With discrimination protections at risk, protests planned across Israel

Entrepreneurs, retired judges, municipalities and academics all are warning against the new government's stated intention to amend Israel's anti-discrimination law.  
Amir Levy/Getty Images

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed coalition deals Wednesday that will enable him to present his new government to the Knesset on Thursday. The agreements include a clause calling to amend Israel’s anti-discrimination law.  

It reads, "In order to correct the distortion in the status quo recently introduced, the law prohibiting discrimination in products, services and entrance to entertainment venues and public places will be amended. Thus, the possibility of holding cultural events or studies for religious and ultra-Orthodox people, while taking into account their religious beliefs and needs, including gender segregation, will be anchored [in law]. Under these conditions, segregation will not be considered prohibited discrimination."

The move to amend the law, pushed forward by the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism and by members of the far-right Religious Zionism, has been criticized across Israel since it was first published last week. Many in Israel fear that the amendment will open the door for doctors, caretakers, hotel owners and others to refuse treatment or services to members of the LGBTQ community, Arab Israelis or women.  

Netanyahu has stated that his government will in no way harm the rights of the LGBTQ community or any other Israeli citizens, but the clause has not been removed from the coalition deals. While these agreements are not legally binding, many fear that they reflect the spirit of the soon-to-be-sworn-in new government.  

On Sunday, several financial and high-tech institutions announced they will not extend credit or do business with groups or individuals who discriminate against sectors of Israeli society. They included Discount Bank, the tech group Wiz, AIG Israel insurance company, Altshuler-Shaham investment house and others. Since then, many other groups and companies have joined in.  

In the high-tech sector, Cyberstarts venture capital fund announced this week that it will stop collaborating with any discriminating company or individual.  

The Israeli branch of giant semiconductor company Intel said, "We have 12,000 female and male employees who belong to all shades of Israeli society. Diversity and inclusion are values ​​that are deeply rooted in our company, to the point that we never imagined that in 2022 we would have to say the obvious: Intel opposes and denounces any inciting, offensive, racist and violent action or discourse, and shall always continue to do so."

Similar messages were published by senior figures in Israel's Microsoft R&D branch, Israeli mobile game developer Playtika and HP Indigo. 

The mayor of Herzliya announced, "The municipality of Herzliya will not issue business licenses to businesses in the city that discriminate against people on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. Herzliya is a liberal, pluralistic, egalitarian and democratic city that respects every person for who they are. No one will be allowed to damage the city's image."  

The municipalities of Ramat Gan and Ramat Hasharon expressed similar positions.  

President of Israel’s Open University Mimi Ajzenstadt sent a personal letter to all of the institute’s staff, pledging, "Open University will continue offering everyone, from whatever gender, religious belief, sexual orientation or lifestyle, the opportunity to study."

Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Beit Berl College for higher education and the deans of all the medical schools in Israel published similar calls.  

A petition signed by 78 retired judges warned against the new government’s alleged intention to destabilize Israel’s democracy and rule of law with a series of legislative steps.  

In an unusual step, President Isaac Herzog met Wednesday with nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, set to be appointed minister of national security and given exceptional policing responsibilities. Herzog asked Ben-Gvir to listen to and take into account growing fears within Israeli society over the new government and its attitude vis-à-vis the LBTGQ community and the Arab sector.

The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel is organizing a protest rally Thursday evening in Tel Aviv, on the backdrop of the coalition agreements, with the slogan "Drawing a red line on hatred and discrimination." It will be the first demonstration to take place against the new Netanyahu government.

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