Israeli Arab Lawmaker Says 'Gay Phenomenon Almost Doesn't Exist' in Community

Joint List MK also argues for conversion therapy on radio show, says banning it prevents return to ‘normal condition’

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Joint List lawmaker Walid Taha in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 2020.
Joint List lawmaker Walid Taha in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Adina Waldman / Knesset Spokesperson

A lawmaker from the predominantly Arab Joint List party said on Sunday that "the gay phenomenon almost doesn’t exist" in Israel's Arab community.

Walid Taha, a representative of the United Arab List faction in the Joint List, voted on Wednesday against two proposed bills banning so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ people, but is widely discredited by experts as ineffectual and harmful. 

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The bills were approved in a preliminary vote, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and the ultra-Orthodox parties voting against it.

Lawmakers from Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party and the Labor Party voted in favor of the two bills, contrary to Likud’s position and breaching coalition discipline. The bill, which was presented by lawmakers Nitzan Horowitz from the left-wing Meretz party and Labor lawmaker Merav Michaeli, defines such therapy as a criminal offense, punishable by a year’s imprisonment. Moreover, the license of a psychologist convicted of practicing such therapy would be revoked for a period of five years if the bill is approved.

“This is a law against abuse and torture of human beings, a matter of life and death,” Horowitz said in a speech to the Knesset.

One of the bills was passed by a majority of 42 to 36, and the other by a majority of 43 to 35. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and lawmaker Michal Shir, both of Likud, voted for the bills, while 21 of 36 Likud members of the Knesset did not show up for the vote. Ministers Itzik Shmuli and Amir Perez of Labor also voted for the law.

Speaking in an interview with Kan radio, Taha said that conversion therapy was intended to bring people who view themselves as members of the LGBTQ community "back to normal." 

“Most of Arab society is against these bills,” Taha said. “The religious, cultural, ideological and moral leadership does not accept such a thing as legitimate, and therefore we voted against this bill.”

Taha added that “The scope of this phenomennon – even if it exists in Arab society, and I suppose it exists somewhere – is very limited and those who suffer from it are not even quick to identify it themselves since society doesn’t accept this as something obvious. Yes, the gay phenomenon almost doesn’t exist in Arab society.”

Taha said that banning conversion therapy would prevent homosexuals from going back what he called "a normal condition" and that he was not aware that such techniques do not work. “A person is born in the image of God either as a man or a woman. If something doesn’t go in line with creation, that person needs therapy,” Taha said. “I have spoken with a lot of experts on these matters and I ask them to present one example of a person who underwent such therapy and it didn’t succeed, at least in the Arab community.”

Three members of another faction in Joint List, Hadash, the historical heir of Israel’s communist party, voted in favor of the bill – Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Kassif – after it was made clear that it does not relate to religious figures. Four member of the United Arab List faction of Joint List opposed the bill, while members of its other factions, Balad and Ta’al, were absent from the vote.

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