Controversial conversion therapy bill passes: 'Saving lives'

"Shame and disgrace" shouted some haredi MKs after the bill passed, as a number of MKs began to applaud.

LGBT flag on Jerusalem's King George Street, July 31, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
LGBT flag on Jerusalem's King George Street, July 31, 2018
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset approved a bill to ban psychologists from practicing conversion therapy in Israel on Wednesday, amid a stormy plenum vote. The bill passed with 42 for and 36 against, with haredi members of the government threatening consequences after coalition members voted in support of the bill.
The legislation, proposed by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, would take away the license of psychologists who uses 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.
"Shame and disgrace" shouted some haredi MKs after the bill passed, as a number of MKs began to applaud.
Blue and White decided to support the bill shortly before the vote. "We promised and we upheld,” tweeted Alternate Prime Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. “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, was the only member of his party to vote in support of the bill. 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.
Earlier this month, coalition chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) threatened punitive sanctions against three gay MKs in the coalition who voted for a bill that would have allowed male gay couples to adopt children from surrogate mothers in Israel. The coalition opposed the bill.
"It was expected from a party that claimed to be a ruling party to act responsibly and not on whims and revenge, certainly not on issues concerning the most sensitive issue of Judaism. This is a violation of the coalition's mutual commitment in all its implications," said UTJ MK Yakov Asher after the vote. "It is impossible for Judaism to be held hostage in the struggles and mutual revenge of Blue and White and the Likud."
The United Torah Judaism Party announced on Wednesday that it was releasing itself from all obligations towards the coalition and was considering further steps. UTJ added that they would file a number of bills concerning religion and the state to the coalition in the coming week.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler denounced the approval of the bill, saying "the government died in the epidemic of abomination laws."
The haredi Shas Party announced that it would not take part in votes at the Knesset plenum until further notice.
Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against the bill, saying "How can you stop a boy confused about his identity who wants to establish a home with a wife and children from receiving help? There are hundreds and thousands of young men who are helped and live a happy life until 120. You call this conversion therapy in demagoguery to make them think they are being tied down with electric shocks. This is a lie. This is willing professional work in a gentle way. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes not, but you are trying to force your position and to forbid those who are asking for [conversion therapy]."
Smotrich attacked Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, saying "You're okay with them doing gender reassignment surgery on a 10-year-old but not okay with helping a confused boy who willingly wants help and direction."
At the Knesset plenum on Tuesday, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish spoke out against the bill, saying it was "extraneous," as the bill singles out psychologists and not others who do conversion therapy for a criminal punishment.
Kish added that a psychologist can already be punished with a disciplinary offense for doing conversion therapy under the current law. Horowitz subsequently agreed to drop the criminal punishment from the bill and Kish stated that this showed that the bill was a "political statement" and the government was "completely opposed" to any criminal punishment.
After Kish's statements, Horowitz stressed that the bill would remain as it was originally proposed, including the criminal punishment, and any changes should be negotiated and discussed only after the bill is passed.