Coalition stability battered over gay conversion therapy legislation

Likud minister says Gantz leading Israel to new election after Blue and White votes with opposition to approve Meretz-led legislation.

Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz
The stability of the coalition and its long-term chances of survival took another battering on Wednesday, as a severe crisis blew up when Blue and White voted with the opposition for a ban on gay conversion therapy.
This step invoked the ire of both the Likud and United Torah Judaism Party which said it was ceasing cooperation with Blue and White, and threatened to vote against coalition legislation.
UTJ also issued retaliatory legislation, introducing a bill to establish a mechanism for the Knesset to override decision by the High Court of Justice, and to ban chametz, leavened produce, from hospitals over Passover, both of which Blue and White opposes.
The storm comes following another coalition dispute two weeks ago when the Likud allowed its members to vote for an opposition proposal to create a commission of enquiry into judicial conflicts of interest, something which Blue and White saw as an attack on the judiciary and a violation of coalition agreements.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Knesset approved the gay conversion ban legislation, introduced by the opposition Meretz party, in a preliminary reading by 42 for and 36 against, with a number of coalition members from Blue and White, as well as Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud, voting in support, and in opposition to the government's position.
The victory for the opposition created pandemonium in the Knesset plenum, with ultra-Orthodox MKs raucously denouncing Blue and White from the gallery, and Likud and Blue and White ministers trading threats from the podium.
“You are not honest, not fair, and not gentlemen. You should have at least informed us in the morning. This is impudence and brazeness. You are completely leading us to elections,” stormed Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters Dudi Amsallem in comments from the podium.
The minister also got to the heart of the political fight, asserting that Blue and White’s anger over the vote on the commission of enquiry for judicial conflicts of interest was unjustified.
“Why are you so angry? Because [of how] we voted regarding the conflict of interests for judges? Is it forbidden for the Knesset to discuss this?” demanded Amsallem.
Nissenkoren said in response that he had fully coordinated with the various coalition party leaders    and the prime minister before the vote.
Following the vote, UTJ held an emergency faction meeting and announced that although it would vote in favor of the coronavirus legislation which is set to come to the plenum late Wednesday night, it viewed itself as “freed from coalition obligations,” in an implicit threat to vote against coalition legislation.
Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni then introduced the legislation on the High Court override and chametz in hospitals over Passover, while party chairman and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman denounced the Likud’s management of the coalition.
And the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party announced that it would not take part in votes at the Knesset plenum until further notice.
 The legislation on conversion therapy, proposed by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, would take away the license of psychologists who employ the controversial practice, fine them and send them to jail for repeat offenses.
The senior leadership of UTJ denounced Blue and White for voting in favor saying that the bill would harm “the holiness of the family,” and will now likely punish the coalition in votes in the Knesset plenum later today as a result.
UTJ chairman and Housing and Construction Minister Ya'acov Litzman said Blue and White’s vote in favor of the bill was a blow to political cooperation with the party, but threatened the Likud as well, saying the ruling party must decide “if it knows how to manage the coalition or destroy itself politically.”
Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said that his party was “ceasing cooperation” with Blue and White because of their vote in favor of the bill, but hit out at the Likud and Ohana, who also voted in favor.
And UTJ faction chair MK Yitzhak Findrus reiterated that the party was stopping “all cooperation with Blue and White from this moment,” and said that the bill “harms the holiness of the family” and constitutes “a blatant violation of the coalition agreement.”
He was likely referring to the clause in UTJ’s coalition agreement with the Likud requiring that the status quo on religion and state be maintained, a clause that the ultra-Orthodox parties traditionally interpret very broadly.
The legislation, proposed by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Labor MK Meirav Michaeili, would take away the license of psychologists who use gay conversion therapy, fine them and send them to jail for repeat offenses.
Similar attempts to ban conversion therapy in Israel have failed in the past.
Blue and White decided to support the bill shortly before the vote. "We promised and we upheld,” tweeted Defense Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz following the vote.
“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 will have free choice and security in their identity."
“Amazing news for the Israeli public and the LGBTQ+ community at whole,” said Horowitz after the vote. ”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.”
The coalition of religious Jewish LGBTQ+ organizations, including Shoval, Havruta and Bat Kol, welcomed the approval of the bill, saying "this is an exciting and significant day in which the injustice of years has been corrected and justice has been done to the victims. The Knesset chose to hear their cry and to protect additional youth from bodily and mental harm."
"We welcome the partners on this journey and rejoice in this historic day in which the Knesset of Israel has chosen to take responsibility and express leadership so that it will no longer have to say 'our hand has not shed this blood,'" added the organizations.
Dr. Tzvi Fishel, Chairman of the Israel Psychological Association welcomed the approval of the bill.
"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!" said Fishel. "There is a social and value-based determination here that gives secondary validity to a medical determination that 'conversion therapy' must disappear from the world."
The Israel Psychological Association’s official stance is against 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.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a member of the Likud Party, voted in support of the bill, while several Likud MKs absented themselves from the vote, not wanting to vote against it.
The Joint List was split with some members voting for and some members voting against the bill. The Labor Party joined the Blue and White Party in supporting the bill against the coalition’s position.
Separately, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the so-called Big Coronavirus Law for its final readings in the Knesset plenum which are set to take place late Wednesday night.  
The law gives the government the power to declare a state of emergency and to enact regulations which would have a broad impact on public and private life.
The legislation gives the Constitution Law and Justice Committee, as well as several other Knesset committees the ability to reject these regulations within 24 hours of their issuance by the government.
Critically however, in “extraordinary circumstances” the law would also allow the government to issue the regulations. without giving the Knesset 24 hours to review them.
Furthermore, the law essentially bypasses the Knesset Coronavirus Committee established when the government was formed to review all such decisions.
Its chair, Likud MK Yifat Shasha Biton has however strongly asserted her committee’s right to review and reject government regulations and has come under withering fire from Netanyahu and his enforcers.
The new legislation will end Shasha Biton’s committee’s oversight efforts over government policy.