Knesset moves to outlaw conversion therapy in Israel

Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties are angry with their coalition allies in the Blue and White for supporting a bill criminalizing conversion therapy for homosexuals.

al-monitor Demonstrators hold a banner reading in Hebrew "A homophobic racist Has to quit" during a rally against Israel's Education Minister Rafi Peretz following his remarks on gay conversion therapy, in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 14, 2019. Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images.

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blue and white, unity government, israeli politics, ultra-orthodox parties, lgbtq, glbt, conversion, gay rights

Jul 22, 2020

The Knesset advanced two legislative proposals today to ban gay conversion therapy. Israel’s parliament passed the preliminary vote on two bills outlawing the controversial practice by a majority of 42 lawmakers against 36 for the first bill and 43 against 35 for the second. Both bills were presented by the opposition — one by Labor Knesset member Merav Michaeli, and one by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz. The proposals criminalize conversion therapy, to be punishable by incarceration for up to one year. The bills would also cancel the licenses of psychologists engaged in such therapy for a period of five years. The bills still need approval in two more Knesset hearings.

Several Blue of White members voted in favor of the proposals, against the position of their coalition members in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and by his ultra-Orthodox political partners. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud, who is openly gay, was the only member of his party to support the bill, with some Likud lawmakers absent from the Knesset plenum.

Blue and White's leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz, tweeted just before the vote, "Conversion therapy was born in sin and its place is outside of the law and the public norm. That is why we will vote today in favor of the law and against conversion therapy. That’s why we are here. We promised and we intend to follow through. It is the right thing to do."

As in other Western countries, Israeli scientists and opinion-makers have strongly condemned gay conversion therapy. Still, though discouraged by Israel’s Health Ministry, this practice has remained legal and is accepted in some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox circles.

In July 2019, then-Education Minister Rafi Peretz of the national-religious Jewish Home Party provoked a public storm over the issue by openly supporting conversion therapy. "I think it is possible. I can tell you I have a very deep familiarity with this kind of education, and I have also done this,” the minister said. Shortly after the interview was aired, Netanyahu said he had asked Peretz for “clarification," stating, “The education minister’s remarks regarding the gay community are unacceptable to me and do not reflect the position of the government that I head."

Ultra-Orthodox parties, which object to the bill, were hoping over the past few days that a milder version of the proposal would be presented. The version presented on July 22 for the preliminary hearing and the support of Blue and White coalition members prompted furious reactions on their part. Representatives of Shas and Yahadut HaTorah announced that their lawmakers will no longer cooperate with their Blue and White coalition partners. Ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman lambasted Blue and White's "rotten conduct against coalition discipline," calling it "a challenge to the political partnership."

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