Ultra-Orthodox Parties Seethe After Vote on LGBTQ Conversion Therapy

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Ultra-Orthodox MKs during the preliminary vote on the bill banning conversion therapy at the Knesset, July 22, 2020.
Ultra-Orthodox MKs during the preliminary vote on the bill banning conversion therapy at the Knesset, July 22, 2020.Credit: Knesset Spokesperson

Ultra-Orthodox parties condemned Defense Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party for its support of a bill banning so-called conversion therapy for the LGBTQ community, defying the coalition's stance, and threatened consequences including cutting ties with the coalition.  

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. The second ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, said it "cut all cooperation" with Kahol Lavan.

Likud Minister David Amsalem said following the preliminary passing of the bill on Wednesday that Kahol Lavan "is cracking the coalition and leading us to an election," adding that "Gantz is aiming there directly, this is impudence and audacity." 

"The Justice Minister, and in general Kahol Lavan – I am ashamed of what you did," Amsalem said in a plenary speech after the vote. "You are acting dishonestly and unfairly. After all, we agreed in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that this should not come up.”

He then addressed Justice Minister and Kahol Lavan lawmaker Avi Nissenkorn: “Mr. Justice Minister, we rejected it, and you informed me five minutes ago. Are you not ashamed? If you have some decency you would have come and let me know in the morning.”

United Torah Judaism condemned the law and said it "violates the sanctity of family and is a blatant violation of the coalition agreement," and said that faction members "are free from any commitment with Kahol Lavan members and coalition commitments."

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

"Kahol Lavan members' support for the bill has undermined United Torah Judaism’s trust" in the party, said the statement.

The chairman of the Constitution Committee and United Torah Judaism MK Ya'akov Asher said after the vote that "he expected of a party that claims to be a ruling party to act responsibly and not on whims and revenge, certainly not on issues concerning the soul of Judaism, the coalition has all the implications. It cannot be that Judaism will be held hostage in the struggles and mutual revenge of Kahol Lavan and the Likud."

MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism said, "we will not cooperate with Kahol Lavan, but the Likud rule is also equal to nil. Where was Prime Minister Netanyahu? Why did Amir Ohana vote in favor?" he asked, referring to the Public Security Minister, and added that "We are considering our steps."

Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli lawmakers gave 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. 

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.” 

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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