Israeli Parliament Bans LGBTQ 'Conversion Therapy' in Preliminary Vote, Risking Coalition Crisis

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A demonstration against 'conversion therapy,' Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019
A demonstration against 'conversion therapy,' Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Israeli lawmakers gave on Wednesday their preliminary approval to ban so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ people, but is widely discredited by experts as ineffectual and harmful. 

Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party voted in favor, defying the coalition's stance against the bill. “Conversion therapy … belongs outside the law,” Gantz wrote on Twitter ahead of the vote. “It’s the right thing to do.” 

Gantz's party broke coalition lines in voting in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by left-wing opposition party Meretz and staunchly opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties.

In total, 42 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill and 36 against.

The bill, which still has to pass three more Knesset votes, would make it illegal for psychologists to provide sexual orientation conversion therapy and would impose significant sanctions for violations of the ban. 

In response to the vote, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said it would not attend any parliament votes until further notice, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud for failing to enforce coalition discipline. A second ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, said it "cut all cooperation" with Kahol Lavan.

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz, who sponsored the bill, told lawmakers ahead of the vote that it stands “against abuse and torture of people, of youth, who are in a difficult stage in life, and some people take advantage of that. This bill is about life and death.”

Dr. Zvi Fishel, chairman of the Israel Psychiatric Association, commented: "The Knesset has transcended political considerations to save the lives of 'patients' taken captive by pagan 'therapists' who are violating the first rule of medical ethics: Do no harm. This is a social, values-based ruling that backs medical opinion that conversion therapy must disappear from this world."

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of Likud, the first openly gay minister in Israel, also voted in favor, as did ministers Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli of Labor, who is also openly gay. 

Right-wing opposition lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich said that coalition lawmakers who voted in favor of the law betrayed their religious and ultra-Orthodox allies in passing a law that "harms the sanctity of the Jewish family." 

That members of Kahol Lavan voted for the bill is seen as an act of revenge against Likud for supporting a bill that they perceived as undermining the justice system last week. Smotrich said ultra-Orthodox parties would therefore be "suckers" to abide by party discipline and vote against his proposed bill to form a commission of inquiry into conflicts of interest of Supreme Court justices. 

Minister Yaakov Litzman from United Torah Judaism said the breaking of the coalition line is "a provocation of the political partnership.

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