Israel has taken an initial vote to ban ‘conversion therapy’ but the issue could destabilise the ruling coalition in the country.
The legislation to ban attempts to ‘cure’ LGBT+ people passed by 42 for with 36 against in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament.
But the vote marked a split between the centrist Blue and White party and their current coalition partners in the United Torah Judaism Party.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud brought Blue and White into the 10 party coalition in May. By doing so, he resolved a 510-day-long political crisis and secured his premiership in the country.
But Blue and White pushing forward with the ‘conversion therapy’ ban has angered the United Torah Judaism Party (UTJ), another partner in the coalition. The Jerusalem Post reported UTJ will now considers itself free ‘from coalition obligations’.
Past bids to secure a ban in Israel
In fact, it was Meretz Party leader Nitzan Horowitz who proposed the legislation on conversion therapy.
It will take away the license of psychologists who try to ‘cure’ LGBT+ people. Punishments also include fines, and even jail for repeat offenses.
With Meretz a minority party, the bill passed the first stage thanks not only to Blue and White but also Likud. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a Likud Party member, also voted for it. Meanwhile other Likud MKs didn’t vote at all, as they didn’t wish to vote against it.
Likewise, The Labor Party, also in the coalition, supported the bill. By contrast The Joint List – a coalition of opposition parties – was split with some MKs supporting it and some voting against.
The issue has a long history in Israel. The country’s Public Health Ministry warned about the dangers of ‘ex-gay’ therapies as long ago as 2014.
But last year the then Minister for Education, Rafael Peretz, stirred controversy by suggesting ‘conversion therapy’ works. He later u-turned and stated ‘conversion therapy is wrong and severe’.
It wasn’t his only u-turn of the year. Peretz, who is also an Orthodox Rabbi, had to backtrack after he likened LGBT+ people to dogs.
Despite this, Israeli experts agree with psychologists and psychiatrists around the world who condemn ‘conversion therapy’ as futile and dangerous.
Indeed, the Israel Medical Association has already banned its members from conducting the ‘therapies’.
However, while campaigners have tried to secure a legal ban before, attempts have always failed in the Knesset.
‘Conversion therapy was born in sin’
Even this bill still needs to pass three more votes in the Knesset. But campaigners are welcoming the vote as an ‘historic’ breakthrough.
Dr Tzvi Fishel, chairman of the Israel Psychological Association, said:
‘The Knesset transcended all political considerations, in order to save the lives of many “patients” taken prisoner by pagan “therapists” who violated the first rule of medical ethics: First do not harm!’
The Israel Psychological Association previously found the ‘therapies’ could cause ‘anxiety, depression, suicide, isolation and social withdrawal, difficulty making intimate and sexual connections, avoiding social connections, harm to religious belief, anger and distancing toward parents’.
Meanwhile Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said:
‘Conversion therapy was born in sin and its place is outside of the law and the public norm.’
Moreover, the openly gay Meertz leader Horowitz hailed the vote on his bill as ‘amazing news’.
He added: ‘Today a historic change is beginning in Israel. I thank the MKs who voted in support of the freedom and equality in order to stop the horror of ‘conversion therapy’, and for everyone who acted, initiated, wrote, shared and fought for the life of the LGBTQ+ community.
‘You helped save lives today.’
A coalition of religious Jewish LGBT+ organizations also welcomed the news.
Could Israel be the sixth country to introduce a ban?
If the new bill becomes law, Israel could become the sixth country to ban ‘conversion therapy’ in law.
Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan and Germany already have bans.
However, Israel may face competition from Canada, The Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Australia and Chile which are also considering bans.
There are already bans in 20 US states: New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, Utah and Virginia as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico.
Moreover, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for the presidency, has promised he will ban the ‘therapies’ if he gets to the White House.
Meanwhile international LGBT+ organization ILGA World predicted 2020 could be a breakthrough year on the issue worldwide.