The Health Ministry issued a circular on Monday morning banning medical professionals in Israel from providing conversion therapy.
The circular stresses the risks to mental health posed by conversion therapy and prohibits all professionals from the offering, publicizing, or providing such "therapies." Licensed professionals who do so will face sanctions, including severe disciplinary proceedings and the revocation of their licenses.
While the Health Ministry has advised against conversion therapy for years, no formal prohibition had been issued against the practice until now. Psychologists in Israel can already be punished with a disciplinary offense for providing conversion therapy.
"This is a victory in the general struggle for tolerance and equality, but in my eyes, it is more basic and more critical because this is also a struggle for life itself, this is truly saving lives," said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.
"'Conversion therapy' is a cruel abuse of distressed youth," stressed the health minister. "This practice is a murder of the psyche, and sometimes of the body as well. It is our duty to act against those who engage in it and endanger human lives. That's what we're doing today."
"Throughout the years, it was, of course, known that there are therapists who do this, but those who stood at the head of the Health Ministry did not try to stop the harm against LGBTQ+ youth," added Horowitz, stressing that conversion therapy stands against the basic values of the Israeli health system.
"It is over," said the health minister. "The Israeli Health Ministry is saying in an official, clear and absolute way - LGBTQ+ people, straight people, transgender people, gays, lesbians, every person - we are all people, we are all good and beautiful exactly as we are and no one should dare to tell you otherwise."
"The circular we're publishing today is sharp, short and to the point and focuses on what is not right and what is forbidden to do as therapists," said Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash.
"Thanks to this circular, we can exact justice from those who hurt us," said Shay Bramson, chairman of the religious Jewish LGBTQ+ Havruta organization. "To complain and to prevent them from continuing to harm. The nonsense that is being argued against us, that we are preventing the freedom of choice, are lies. We just are stopping those who scratched us and left us with scars until today, in order that they won't hurt others."
"We would let people of hate and conversion [therapy] lose their petty battle quietly, were it not for the fact that we know that this is a matter of human lives, women and men being harmed," added Bramson. "We will not let them harm any longer and we will stop them."
The circular defines conversion therapy as any therapy or consultation given in any way which has the goal of changing the gender identity or sexual identity of a person. "The sexual orientation or gender identity of a person should not be seen as a medical or psychological issue requiring treatment," read the circular.
The Health Ministry stressed in the circular that while those providing conversion therapy often claim that there is scientific backing for the practice, no such backing exists.
The Israel Psychological Association's official stance opposes the practice of conversion therapy, as it was “not found to be helpful, and could cause real damage,” including “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.”
In July 2020, Horowitz attempted to pass a bill that would ban conversion therapy and punish those who provide it as criminals. While the bill did pass a preliminary reading, it fell in its first reading. Similar attempts to ban conversion therapy in Israel have failed in the past.