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Time to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’

Lior Soroka
Lior Soroka
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Members of the LGBT community hold a banner reading in Hebrew "A homophobic Racist Has to Quit" during a rally against Israel's Education Minister Rafi Peretz, July 14, 2019.
Members of the LGBT community hold a banner reading in Hebrew "A homophobic Racist Has to Quit" during a rally against Israel's Education Minister Rafi Peretz, July 14, 2019.Credit: AFP
Lior Soroka
Lior Soroka

It’s Saturday night. A pimple-faced teenager in a kippa sits in a tiled-roof house in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, watching the weekend news roundup with his parents. Or perhaps it’s a girl with a long braid and a skirt, in an upper-middle-class home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’anana.

The new education minister’s broad smile radiates from the screen. Summer vacation is definitely the time to tell his students he’s a big believer in gay conversion therapy. (“I think it’s possible. I can tell you that I have a deep familiarity with the issue of education and I have also done this.”) That teenager shrivels up inside. It is better for me to die than to live, they say to themselves, like Jonah. They too feel they cannot bear the burden placed on their narrow shoulders.

I was there once, though without the kippa. I remember watching TV with my parents in 2001, and to my great joy, instead of Rabbi Rafi Peretz, I saw the singer Corinne Alal, who with great courage came out as a lesbian to Kobi Meidan all of Israel. Still, at 18, my only wish was for the ground to open and swallow me up. The LGBTQ community has chalked up many accomplishments since the 1990s, but like Peretz (“I don’t like dogs in my home, not to compare, yes?”), there are still people battling to turn back the clock and block us from achieving anything further.

>> Read more: The constituency that keeps ‘conversion therapy’ legal in IsraelPorn, pain and guilt: Religious homosexual Israelis recount 'conversion therapy'

Just last week, Lee Yaron wrote here about the authorities’ absurd policy regarding parenthood confirmation for LGBTQ parents and their stubborn refusal to alter it. While straight couples are recognized as parents from the day of the child’s birth, LGBTQ couples are required to go to court to establish the rights of the non-biological parent through an exhausting bureaucratic procedure, and the state insists that these requests be examined only after the birth, and not a moment before.

Such couples must also prove that they were in a relationship for at least nine months – again, something not required of straight couples. It is what it is. There’s nothing to do about it. If you’re a gay man or a lesbian, then apparently you are less capable of functioning as a parent. You must be scrutinized with a magnifying glass. A government panel that examined the issue made a few cosmetic changes, and even these await the approval of Justice Minister Amir Ohana, Israel’s first openly gay cabinet minister. Let’s see how he handles it.

Newly appointed Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana attends a Likud primaries event in Tel Aviv (then, as an MK) in Tel Aviv, February 5, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

As for conversion therapy, in 2014, the Health Ministry published a warning against these harmful treatments, signed by then-Minister Yael German. It stated that “there is no research-based evidence of these methods’ success … and there is even evidence of possible harm.” Nevertheless, these treatments are still common in Israel; estimates say that hundreds of people, most of them religious men, seek or are sent to such therapy every year. In the United States, meanwhile, 15 states prohibited conversion therapy for minors after the American Psychiatric Association recognized its hazards.

Ohana condemned Peretz’s remarks Sunday, tweeting, “The government of Likud, the national-liberal movement, will not support conversion therapies.” He even said that they posed a risk to life, given the relatively high suicide rates among LGBTQ youths. If his heart is at one with his keyboard, Ohana must immediately resubmit to the Knesset the bill sponsored by German in 2016 that sought to forbid these miserable, painful treatments. I’m sure that such a “liberal” government will expedite the matter.

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