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Israel in turmoil over proposal to cancel anti-discrimination law  

With the president, politicians, intellectuals and celebrities slamming an amendment proposed by future coalition members to cancel the anti-discrimination law, incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in a bind.  
Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament) member Bezalel Smotrich (L), leader of the Religious Zionist Party, speaks with his colleague and party member Orit Strook (R).

Israeli financial and industry groups came out Monday against an initiative by far-right Knesset members to seek legislation allowing businesses and service providers to refuse services that allegedly go against their religious beliefs. Israel’s Bank Discount announced it would deny credit to any business or entity found to be discriminating against any sector of Israeli society.

A few hours after the decision was made by Discount’s board of directors, other groups published similar announcements. These included the Israeli cybersecurity startup Wiz, AIG Israel insurance company, Altshuler-Shaham investment house and others. 

The storm started last week when details of the coalition deals signed by the Likud with its future coalition partners were revealed. Among those details was the proposal by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party to amend the law that prevents discrimination in products and services. This legislation is considered a major tool in fighting against discrimination against women, LGBTQ and Israeli Arabs, among others.

On Sunday, the storm grew bigger. Interviewed by public broadcaster KAN on the proposed amendment, Knesset member Orit Strock of the Religious Zionism party, set to serve as minister at the prime minister’s office, said that doctors should be allowed to refuse to provide medical treatments that contravene their religious faith, as long as another doctor is willing to provide the same assistance. Strock’s party colleague Simcha Rothman, set to head the Knesset Law and Justice Committee, took things even further. He said in an interview that a hotel owner could refuse to host gay couples.  

The leaked proposal and the comments by Strock and Rothman generated great anger within the political system.  

Outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of the left-wing Meretz Party (himself an active member of the LGBTQ community) was especially sharp. "The intention to introduce discrimination into the health care system and into medical care, based on origin, religion or gender — is terrifying. Discrimination against caregivers and against patients stands in total contradiction to the basic rules of the health system and to a sane human society,’’ he tweeted

President Isaac Herzog echoed these concerns. “A situation in which citizens in Israel feel threatened because of their identity or belief undermines the fundamental democratic values of the State of Israel. The [bigoted] comments heard in recent days against the LGBT community and against any different groups and sectors worry and disturb me a great deal,” he tweeted

As more and more public figures condemned the amendment proposal, incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from Strock and Rothman. “We will not allow any discrimination of LGBTQ people or harm the rights of any other Israeli citizen. In the state under my leadership, there will not be a situation where a gay person, an ultra-Orthodox, Arab or anyone else, will go into a hotel and not receive service, will enter into a doctor’s office and not receive treatment,” he said in a video post.   

A close associate of Netanyahu told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that "it is difficult for me to see how such a coalition can be maintained in the long run, with these Knesset members from the Religious Zionism party. They hurt the Likud party and they do not understand their responsibilities. It's not going to be easy." 

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