Crisis over gay conversion bill will not collapse gov't - analysis

The bill is nevertheless another straw on the camel’s back.

Thousands protest throughout the country after Education Minister Rafi Peretz stated that he supports gay conversion therapy. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Thousands protest throughout the country after Education Minister Rafi Peretz stated that he supports gay conversion therapy.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Blue and White took a determined and principled stand on the issue of gay conversion therapy on Wednesday and voted to ban it because of the highly detrimental affects it can have on those who undergo such psychological treatment.
That at least was the official line from Blue and White, with numerous MKs speaking out after the vote about the perils of this controversial therapy, which has been widely condemned by mental health institutions.
Spokespeople for the party said that this was an issue in which its MKs had to vote their conscience because of the serious implications, despite their commitments to the coalition.
But despite this moral high-ground, Blue and White has voted on several occasions against its principles in the short time since the current government was established, precisely because of its coalition obligations.
In June, for example, Blue and White voted against an opposition bill to legally permit public transportation on Shabbat, despite its promises to its electorate to back such a policy during the three recent election campaigns.
So, why then did the party rebel against coalition discipline on Wednesday regarding a different matter of principle?
The decision appears in large part to be a shot across the bows of the Likud following an embarrassing debacle two weeks ago when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed a proposal by Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, also of the opposition, to establish a commission of enquiry into conflicts of interest in the judiciary.
Defending the judiciary in the face of ongoing attacks from the Right is Blue and White’s most important principle, and the party was shocked that the Likud appeared ready to back what it perceived as an attack on this cardinal issue.
Some Likud MKs did indeed vote for the bill, and although enough Likud MKs absented themselves from that vote to allow it to fall following heavy threats from Blue and White, the damage was done, with Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn describing the Likud’s actions as “a blatant violation of the coalition agreement.”
Well two can play at that game, hence the vote by Blue and White MKs on Wednesday to back a ban on gay conversion therapy.
As one senior Blue and White was quoted as saying, anonymously, “we’re not suckers.”
As for the ultra-Orthodox parties, their anger is partly over the conversion therapy bill itself, but also over the lack of coalition discipline and a series of grievances with the Likud over several recent issues.
Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni expressed anger that Netanyahu had called on the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties to vote in favor of the judicial enquiry committee and then failed to show up and vote for it, something Gafni described as “very severe behavior.”
The failure to pass a budget, leaving the budget for yeshivas in limbo, has upset Gafni, as has the fact that the financial grants program promised by the prime minister will not award money based on the number of children in a family.
The fact that several Likud MKs either absented themselves from the vote on conversion therapy or voted with the opposition, further angered the ultra-Orthodox parties, leading to the subsequent threats against the coalition.
Although the dire warnings of United Torah Judaism to stop cooperation with Blue and White and vote against government legislation seem severe, it is unlikely that this latest incident will lead to the collapse of the government.
The bill, after all, merely passed its preliminary reading, and for all the protestations of Blue and White MKs about the severe danger to life posed by the psychological consequences of conversion therapy to those who undergo it, the party is unlikely to continue backing it through committee and in further plenum readings.
UTJ knows this and is unlikely to topple the government over a bill which will ultimately be defeated, especially when a budget needs to be passed and a deadly pandemic needs to be quelled.
What this latest incident does prove – once again – is how vulnerable the coalition is to the destabilizing tactics of the opposition.
These efforts are not coordinated, due to the broad spectrum of parties on the opposition benches from the hard Left to the hard Right.
But it is this political diversity that is so dangerous, because the opposition can destabilize the coalition from the Right, as Smotrich did with his judicial inquiries commission proposal, or from the Left as Meretz did with public transportation on Shabbat last month and the gay conversion therapy ban on Wednesday.
These political spats will keep dividing the coalition and keep chipping away and fracturing its cohesiveness, which was never very strong to begin with.
A gay conversion therapy ban will not break the coalition. But it is another straw piling up on the camel’s back.