Doctors should have the right not to serve people from the LGBTQ community if it is against their religious belief and there is another doctor who can treat them, RZP MK Orit Struck said.
“We need to stop treating Halacha as something that is less valuable,” Struck said in response to a question on KAN radio on Sunday. “The country’s laws express its moral code.”
Struck was commenting on the fact that both RZP and United Torah Judaism’s coalition agreements with the Likud included an amendment that would enable private businesses to refuse to provide a product or service due to religious belief if the same product or service could be obtained in near proximity at a similar price.
This could include situations such as an Orthodox barber refusing to shave a client with a razor – which is prohibited in Jewish law; a man or woman refusing to serve a member of the opposite gender; and people refusing service to members of the LGBTQ community.
This also means that a hotel owner may refuse to provide a room to a gay couple, RZP MK Simcha Rothman also said in response to a question on KAN radio on Sunday.
“Let’s make it simple,” Rothman wrote on Twitter. “Liberty means that people can also do things that I do not like. Freedom of speech means that one can also say things that are unpleasant about religious people, Arabs or LGBTQ. Freedom of occupation means that a person is also allowed not to behave nicely to clients, and boycott [a certain community] or not, and the clientele will or will not punish him for it. That is liberty. Shocking, right?” Rothman wrote.
The law’s nickname is the “Motti Steinmetz Law,” named after a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) musician whose gender-segregated concert in Afula was deemed illegal discrimination by the High Court in August 2019, according to RZP’s spokesperson. The purpose of the law is to allow for such concerts, and was not intended to whitewash discrimination, the spokesperson said.
Politicians express outrage over Struk's and Rothman's comments
Rothman and Struck’s comments led to an uproar.
President Isaac Herzog issued a rare response on Twitter on Sunday evening.
“A situation where citizens of Israel feel threatened because of their identity or belief undermines the core democratic and moral values of the State of Israel. The racist comments in recent days against the LGBTQ community and in general against different sectors and publics deeply worry and concern me.
“‘The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,’ the Declaration of Independence says, and we must all safeguard this at any price and without compromise. Any harm to these core values are dangerous to our very life and existence as a people and a state.
“I condemn any statement that serves as a basis for exclusion or any phenomenon that enables discrimination. I am acting and will act with all of my power as president in order to prevent harm to different parts and populaces in the public,” Herzog wrote.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter, “Netanyahu is weak and is leading us to a dark halachic state. He does not even condemn these statements because he is unable to.”
Outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said, “Discrimination against caregivers and patients stands in total opposition to the basic rules of the health system and of a sane human society. The health system will continue to be the most varied and diverse system, without a trace of racism and discrimination – with Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, women and men, LGBTQ, rich and poor, in all professions and health institutions, as patients and caregivers.
“Orit Struck from Hebron and Samira Pathi from Acre will receive equal treatment and appropriate conduct from every doctor and nurse, every pharmacist and every HMO. The faith, origin or sexual orientation of caregivers and patients are not relevant. The entire health system will stand up to any attempt to destroy it,” Horwitz said.
Outgoing Transportation Minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli wrote on Twitter: “Struck and Rothman are accurately articulating the new government’s guidelines, no matter how much Netanyahu outwardly disavows them. He is the secular minority in this extreme government, where women, the LGBTQ community and Arabs are not recognized as equal human beings. A government that does not represent the majority of Israelis, who really do not agree with this.
Many other politicians from the soon-to-be opposition condemned the comments. They were joined by a large number of civil organizations.
Hadas Ziv, vice president for content and ethics at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, said in response: “Such a proposal, even if it does not pass in the end, erodes the values of medical ethics to which all doctors are committed. Do not be confused by the whitewashed language of the far-right religious parties. The demand that doctors provide equal treatment cannot be defined as coercion, this is their mission and this is their profession. Whoever is unable to meet this supreme duty and provide equal treatment to all his patients should not become a doctor. The discourse led by Struck and her ilk will crush the medical community, and it seems that’s where it’s headed,” Ziv said.
Other leaders of civilian organizations who condemned the comments included Prof. Eyal Shwartzberger, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Society of Israel; Prof. Zion Hagay, CEO of the Israel Medical Association; Dr. Ze’ev Feldman, deputy CEO of the IMA and head of its branch of doctors working in the public sector; and Hilah Pe’er, CEO of The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force.
Struck addressed the uproar later on Sunday, calling it a “commotion over nothing.”
“No one intends to discriminate against LGBTQ people because of their very identity or self-definition. Not in medical care, nor in any other service. LGBTQ people are human beings, and deserve respect and love just like everyone else. In the interview with [KAN radio host] Keren Neubach I emphasized this, of course,” Struck wrote on Twitter.
“It is not about the identity of the patient at all, but about the essence of the treatment. If there is medical treatment that is contrary to Halacha, an observant doctor will not be forced to give it, regardless of the patient’s identity.
“Because in the State of Israel, which was established after 2,000 years of exile thanks to Jews who gave their lives (literally: slaughtered, hanged, burned at the stake and tortured to death) for the observance of the Torah, a believing Jew will not be forced to violate Halacha. I’m sure a huge majority of people agree with this simple truth, and you identify with it – certainly on Hanukkah, the holiday that started as a rebellion against anti-religious coercion.
“And for those who find it difficult – do a simple visualization exercise, and apply this principle to your partners from the Shura Council [Ra’am]. You will find that suddenly principles of religion and faith become somehow easier to swallow,” Struck said.
Rothman also responded later on Twitter, “I hope it is clear to everyone that the headline about my comment was at minimum taking it out of context, if not bordering on a lie. When someone says that he supports the right of a business owner to do as he pleases, it does not mean that he supports everything that every business owner does with his choice,” Rothman said.
Netanyahu steps away
Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from Struck’s comments.
"The Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBTQ+ people or any Israeli citizen."MK Benjamin Netanyahu
“MK Orit Struck’s comments are unacceptable to members of the Likud,” the presumptive prime minister said. “The coalition agreements do not enable discrimination against LGBTQ people or harm their rights to receive services like every citizen in Israel. The Likud will ensure that there will be no harm to LGBTQ people or any Israeli citizen.”
As the uproar continued throughout the day on Sunday, Netanyahu also published a video statement, in which he reiterated his written statement and added that curbing LGBTQ rights “did not happen during the 15 years of my service as prime minister, and will also not happen now.”