Israel Clears First Hurdle in Banning 'Conversion Therapy'; Religious Conservatives Unhappy

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 23, 2020

The Knesset — Israel's body of lawmakers — has preliminarily approved a bill that would outlaw so-called "conversion therapy" in the Middle Eastern country, reports Haaretz. The bill must now be read and approved twice more to become law.

The initial passage of the legislation, which occurred July 22, has created stress for Israel's coalition government, reports the BBC, with the centrist Blue and White party (Kahol Lavan) breaking ranks to join opposition liberal party Meretz in supporting the ban.

This move angered religious conservatives, with United Torah Judaism — an Ultra-Orthodox party — suggesting that it might retaliate by introducing bills that Blue and White and Meretz would find unpalatable.

The bill passed its first reading with 42 lawmakers in favor and 36 opposed.

The bill "would revoke the license of any psychologist who uses the controversial therapy, and would levy fines and jail time," reports American news source Jewish Exponent. "It does not mention rabbis who practice such therapy, which remains legal in Israel and is practiced in segments of the Orthodox community."

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz rallied lawmakers before the vote, acknowledging that "There could be repercussions. Nevertheless, this is a top-priority moral issue and it's the right thing to do."

So-called "conversion therapy" purports to "cure" LGBTQ people and "convert" them into heterosexuals and cisgender people. Reputable mental health professionals reject this, noting that the practice is ineffective and puts those who are subjected to it in harm's way.

The Knesset's initial vote on the bill won praise from the head of the Israel Psychiatric Association, Dr. Zvi Fischel, who said that the ban would "save the lives of 'patients' taken captive by pagan 'therapists' who are violating the first rule of medical ethics: Do no harm.

"This is a social, values-based ruling that backs medical opinion that conversion therapy must disappear from this world," Dr. Fishel added.

The measure also garnered support from openly gay lawmakers of other parties, including the secular, rightward Likud party and Labor. The ban will not become law until it has been passed in three readings.

Israel does not grant same-sex marriages within its borders, but gay and lesbian couples who wed elsewhere can have their marriages recognized. Employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is outlawed, and all Israelis are permitted to serve equally in the country's armed forces.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.