Meretz Candidate Under Fire for Flip-flopping on LGBTQ Rights Ahead of Election

The left-wing party's no. 4 said in an interview in Arabic that she would abstain on a bill banning 'conversion therapy,' but later backtracked in Hebrew, promising to support any law advancing LGBTQ rights

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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From right: Tamar Zandberg, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, Nitzan Horowitz, and Esawi Freige.
From right: Tamar Zandberg, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, Nitzan Horowitz, and Esawi Freige.Credit: Amir Levy
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, the No. 4 candidate on the Meretz list, said in an interview in Arabic that she would abstain on a bill prohibiting so-called "conversion therapy," then reversed herself and said she would support the bill, sponsored by Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz.

Horowitz issued a statement saying Rinawie Zoabi’s comments “were made mistakenly.”

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In an interview with the Kul al-Arab website, Rinawie Zoabi said Meretz supports the right of every person to live as they please but added that she plans to take into consideration the feelings of the society she comes from. Asked what she would do if the bill to prohibit conversion therapy was brought to a vote, she replied: “I will abstain, I won’t act like the Joint List. (Three members of Hadash voted in favor of the bill on a preliminary reading.)

Rinawie Zoabi later issued a statement saying she would support any legislation to promote LGBT rights, including Horowitz’s bill. “Conversion therapy is a plague that needs to be stamped out,” she said. “It causes serious harm to young men and women.” Rinawie Zoabi also said she “supports the promotion of human rights for every group and gender, in accordance with Meretz’s values.”

Horowitz said, “All members of Meretz, Jews and Arabs, are fully and absolutely committed to fighting for equality and promoting LGBT rights.” He said Rinawie Zoabi “made clear that she is 100 percent dedicated to the fight for LGBT equality.” He also said Meretz would continue to advance the bill against "conversion therapy," along with bills on surrogacy, civil marriage, transgender rights and adoption by same-sex couples.

The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force issued this response: “We will not accept being spoken to differently in different languages. Spreading toxic messages and homophobia in Arabic followed by more refined messages in Hebrew is a disgraceful practice. It is unbelievable that a Meretz candidate, who was elected to represent a liberal voice, should adopt this kind of double standard. If Rinawie Zoabi sincerely regrets her comments, we expect her to report this first of all in Arabic and to the Arab public, just as she did with her original statements.”

Last July, the Knesset passed in a preliminary reading two bills submitted by Horowitz and Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli prohibiting psychologists from conducting “conversion therapy” for LGBT people. The bills passed the preliminary reading with the support of members of Kahol Lavan and Labor who defied coalition discipline. The vote split the Joint List: Ayman Odeh and two members of Hadash voted in favor, the members of United Arab List, which represents the Islamic Movement, voted against, and the other members of the Joint List were absent from the vote. The tension over issues of religion and state was subsequently one of the factors that led to UAL’s departure from the Joint List.

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