Israel Nears Law Banning Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Bill returned to ministerial committee for re-vote after its rejection last week; Haaretz poll: 48 MKs would support bill on gay rights.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted Sunday in favor of a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The bill, sponsored by Yesh Atid minister Ofer Shelah, was voted down by the same panel last week. But it was raised again after both Health Minister Yael German and Limor Livnat (Likud) requested a revote.

Several bills sponsored by Yesh Atid to promote gay rights and change the status quo on religion and state were scheduled to be debated Sunday, just as a new Haaretz poll found that 70 percent of the public supports equal rights for gays.

Eli Ben Dahan, the deputy Religious Services minister, condemned Yesh Atid’s attempt to promote legislation on religious-state issues without coordinating with Habayit Hayehudi. “All issues of religion and state in this Knesset are on my shoulders alone,” Ben Dahan said. “If you want to advance proposals on issues of religion and state, the route is through me, or it will not happen. That's how it is – it’s not pleasant, I know,” he said last week.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of Israelis support equal rights for the gay community, according to a poll conducted for Haaretz by the Dialog Institute under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of the Tel Aviv University Statistics Department. There is relatively broad support for this among the religious, traditional and Arab communities, though ultra-Orthodox Jews remain firmly opposed.

According to the poll conducted on Thursday, 89 percent of secular people say they are in favor of full equality, as did 72 percent of traditional respondents and 46 percent of those who defined themselves as religious and Arabs. Only 8 percent of Haredim expressed support. Support for equal rights for gays is higher among women than men.

Many of the various bills being proposed to equalize gay rights would be unnecessary if same-sex couples could marry in Israel, since the unmarried status is the source of discrimination in many areas, but Jewish couples can only marry through the Rabbinate unless they go abroad.

Haaretz poll: Knesset divided over gay rights

The Knesset is divided enough over gay rights to make it hard to predict whether legislation on the issue will pass, according to a Haaretz survey.

The LGBT community can apparently count on at least 50 of the Knesset’s 120 MKs, with a similar number opposing. LGBT supporters include members of center and left parties: Yesh Atid, Hatnuah, Labor, Meretz and Hadash.

It’s unclear how many of Likud’s 20 MKs would support a change in legislation. Ministers Limor Livnat, Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa’ar declined to take part in the survey but have all voted in favor of gay rights in recent months.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin says he supports equal rights but not formal recognition of a gay couple as married.

In recent days a number of MKs have said they want to ensure equal rights for the gay community and prevent discrimination, even if they object to full recognition by the state.

At least 48 MKs appear sure to vote against a bill recognizing gay rights. These include MKs from right-of-center parties Habayit Hayehudi , Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as Arab MKs from United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad.

Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett said last week he opposes official recognition of the gay community without an extensive public debate. The party’s Eli Ben Dahan, also deputy religious services minister, said he would not cooperate with laws accepting gays as couples. Ayelet Shaked is perhaps the only contrarian in Habayit Hayehudi, but the party said none of its MKs would take part in the survey.

MK Elazar Stern from Hatnuah, a party committed to pro-LGBT legislation, also declined to state his opinions. Stern has said in the past he supports pro-gay legislation but prefers dialogue to legislation. Party chief Tzipi Livni and MK David Tsur strongly support the official recognition of gay couples as married.

Yesh Atid MKs widely support full recognition of gay rights. Even its Orthodox Jewish MK, Dov Lipman, says he favors “full equality in civil rights.”

Like Habayit Hayehudi, ultra-Orthodox and Arab MKs declined to take part in the Haaretz survey. One Balad MK said recently the party might support such legislation in the future. United Arab List-Ta’al MKs did not respond to Haaretz’s queries.

In any case, voting on divisive topics is not always left to individual MKs’ preferences. Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu are likely to ensure that their MKs vote in unison on the issue.

A gay pride parade in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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