This article was published on August 18th, 2020
Gay conversion therapy refers to a form of treatment or psychotherapy that aims to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is widely viewed worldwide as illogical, unethical, and immoral.
Passing the first stage in parliament after two parties in the coalition government joined the opposition to vote in favor, the bill is still deemed by many to be a political risk in the country as many religious parties are unsettled about the possible move. Consequently, Israel’s former education minister endorsed further use of gay conversion therapy, which triggered a backlash among many prominent Israeli politicians and organizations.
A member of the Knesset for the Arab-majority Joint List, Waleed Taha, has been quite vocal in his opposition to the bill, calling it “particularly problematic” as it goes against the contingent that elected him into office, going so far as to tell the Israeli state news:
“[The] phenomenon of gays is almost nonexistent in Arab society. The issue is not debated in Arab society and if it exists, it is on a very small scale, and those who suffer from it are in no rush to identify themselves. Homosexuals have the right to undergo treatment to change their sexual character. This law prevents them from receiving treatment that would bring them back to normal.”
Immediately after the vote, one religious party, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, a part of the tenuous national unity government, threatened to introduce bills which Blue and White – a centrist member of the government – would find objectionable. Before the bill is passed, however, two more readings must occur before it becomes law.
Other countries have made headlines on this issue as well this week, including the United Kingdom, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling the practice “absolutely abhorrent”, and stated that there are plans going forward to ban it in the country. Back in Israel, opposition Meretz party leader Nitzan Horoitz, a co-author of the bill, says the preliminary passage marks a “historic change” in the country.
The leader of the Blue and White party – and also the current alternate prime minister Benny Gantz – welcomed the result, stating via Twitter: “Conversion therapy was born in sin and its place is outside of the law and the public norm. We will make sure that everyone, from every background and sexual orientation in Israel, has free choice and security over their identity.”
The controversial bill has also caused a significant rift among current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Netanyahu, who needs to work with other parties in order to maintain power, called the remarks made by the opposition “unacceptable”.
Israel is the exception to the rule in the Middle East, possessing the most progressive attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community despite opposition from several conservative factions in their society. They are protected under anti-discrimination laws, adoption and same-sex inheritance rights, with members able to serve in the military since 1993. The country also boasts a record number of MPs that are openly gay and just last year appointed the first openly gay minister.