New regulations banning “conversion therapy” to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity were issued for the first time in a circular issued by the Health Ministry on Monday.
The new rules ban medical professionals from offering, advertising or conducting "conversion therapy," warning of the mental health risks they pose.
Medical professionals who do offer and carry out such practices will be exposed to sanctions, including the loss of their professional licenses. The circular states that the Health Ministry rejects the premise that conversion therapy is based on sexual orientation or gender identity being a medical or mental health problem requiring treatment.
Tal Bergman, director of the Health Ministry's mental health division, said the circular is highly significant, even though it does not have the status of legislation.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said in a press conference that “no one needs to be converted. Lesbian, gay, trans and straight people, you are good and beautiful just the way you are. 'Conversion therapy' is cruel abuse of young people in distress. This practice is murder of the soul, and sometimes even the body. We are obligated to act against those who do it and endanger people’s lives.”
Bergman, who was involved in writing the circular along with the ministry's chief psychologist, Gabi Peretz, said that it “provides an important basis for legal proceedings in lawsuits by patients in cases where they feel that professionals have caused them harm or injustice in this matter, and not just disciplinary measures within the Health Ministry.”
The Israel Medical Association and the ministry’s Psychology Council, along with other organizations, oppose "conversion therapy" and have issued position papers against it in recent years.
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The chairman of the National Council on Mental Health, Dr. Zvi Fishel, said at the press conference that "conversion therapy" is unethical and can cause "cases of anxiety, PTSD, seclusion, alienation, depression and suicidal ideation.
So-called conversion therapy is "not effective, because it is impossible to change a person’s identity. So when you offer something that is not effective and is dangerous, you are committing a serious violation,” said Fishel.
In 2014, when Yael German, then a member of Knesset for Yesh Atid, was health minister, the ministry issued a warning against "conversion therapy," stating that professionals who use such methods are “creating a false representation of scientific recognition of the method, even though in practice there is no research testifying to the success of any method whatsoever concerning the possibility of conversion, and there is even evidence of possible harm.”
When United Torah Judaism Chairman Yaakov Litzman was either health minister or deputy health minister – from 2015 until 2020 – the ministry did not make progress on the issue and did not initiate a process to ban the practice.
Israel does not currently have a law banning conversion therapy. In 2021, lawmaker Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan sponsored a bill that would ban conducting the practice on minors. The bill passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset, but a short time later the Knesset dissolved itself, and the bill has not tabled since. A similar bill had previously been tabled by German and other lawmakers, but was withdrawn because the “government feels the use of criminal sanctions is inappropriate concerning this behavior.”
Organizations promoting equality for the LGBTQ community praised the new regulations. The new rules “emphasize the danger of the harmful, ineffective and exploitative conversion [therapy] practices,” the Center for Combating Conversion Therapy said. “Suicidal ideation, self-hatred and depression are the fate of many who have experienced it. Not a single one of them converted themselves,” said the center.
Ofer Neumann, the director of the Israel Gay Youth organization, said that "conversion therapy" treatments constitute a psychological attack against those forced to undergo them, and that the circular was "a breakthrough that will save lives, families and the futures of hundreds of young people in Israel."
The chair of Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, Hila Peer, said many people in the LGBTQ community “still carry with them the brutal scars from these treatments, and Israel bears the responsibility to prevent future scars.”