Without Kahol Lavan, Joint List Backing, Knesset Vote to Ban 'Conversion Therapy' Delayed

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Protesters at an LGBTQ rights rally in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2020.
Protesters at an LGBTQ rights rally in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A preliminary Knesset vote planned for Wednesday on a bill to ban so-called conversion therapy was delayed by a week, after the opposition lawmaker who sponsored it understood it wouldn't get enough votes to pass.

So-called conversion therapy aims to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ people, but is widely discredited as harmful by experts worldwide and is used despite no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered.

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Lawmakers from Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party were under pressure to break with the coalition line and vote with the opposition in favor of the bill, but Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz, who sponsored it, decided to delay the vote that could have exacerbate tensions among coalition parties.

The bill would make it illegal for psychologists to provide sexual orientation conversion therapy and would impose significant sanctions for violations of the ban. The vote initially planned for Wednesday is a preliminary one, and the bill would have to pass three additional votes before becoming law.

A source in the Knesset opposition said the opposition aimed to convince the entire party, or at least individual members of Kahol Lavan, to vote with the opposition as an act of revenge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. Last week, Likud supported a bill to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate judges’ alleged conflicts of interest – a move seen in Kahol Lavan and the opposition as an attempt to undermine the justice system and was voted down.

Benny Gantz attends a government meeting in Jerusalem, May 30, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Most members of the Arab-majority Joint List planned to either vote against the bill or abstain. Sources in the party told Haaretz that the Hadash faction of the list intended to allow its members to vote whichever way they wanted, but estimated that only two lawmakers would have actually voted.

According to Horowitz, the bill is a matter of "mental supervision." He said, "Its approval in the Knesset is a test for all MKs from the joint list to the Likud." Horowitz intends to bring the proposal to a vote next week in an attempt to expand the support base for the law, although the Kahol Lavan might have less maneuvering space, and it is not clear whether they can be recruited once again for the move.

Several weeks ago, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted that the coalition members, including Kahol Lavan, would neither support nor oppose the legislation, so that talks on the matter could be held with the two ultra-Orthodox parties. A source inside the coalition said that the decision made by the committee, headed by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, is meant to allow the government to weigh softer versions of the bill, in order to mediate the reaction from the ultra-Orthodox factions. So far, the talks have been unsuccessful.

As long as the Ministerial Committee for Legislation delays, the coalition members are required to oppose the law to maintain the discipline and unity of the coalition.

The opposition is also hoping that some Likud Knesset members, including Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and lawmaker Sharren Haskel, will choose to be absent for the vote, making it more likely to pass on the preliminary vote.

The bill, which is sponsored by Horowitz, would make it illegal for psychologists to provide sexual orientation conversion therapy and would impose significant sanctions for violations of the ban. It is the professional consensus in Israel and abroad that such “treatments” inflict emotional harm on patients and can lead to clinical depression and suicide.

“Conversion treatments endanger human life and are a violation of medical ethics in every well-run country,” said Horowitz, who is the joint chairman of the Knesset LGBT caucus, on Tuesday. “In substance, ‘the treatment’ involves the emotional and physical abuse of young people” over their sexual orientation on the “false pretense that it is legitimate therapy. We have to put a stop to this craziness.”

The Israel Medical Association, the Israel Psychiatric Association, and the Israel Psychological Association have expressed support for the bill.

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