Stormy Knesset committee meeting debates conversion therapy ban

Multiple times throughout the discussion, participants entered shouting matches, with committee chairman Haim Katz at one point telling two MKs ‘You want to fight? Go outside and go crazy’

Rafael Kelner Polisuk and Shoshana Raizel, two Jewish youth who underwent conversion therapy at a committee meeting on a bill to ban such therapies (photo credit: DANI SHEM TOV/KNESSET SPOKESPERSONS OFFICE)
Rafael Kelner Polisuk and Shoshana Raizel, two Jewish youth who underwent conversion therapy at a committee meeting on a bill to ban such therapies
A bill to ban conversion therapy by psychologists was debated during a stormy meeting of the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, with professionals, MKs and former patients clashing over the controversial subject on Monday.
The bill, proposed by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, would take away the license of psychologists who use conversion therapy, fine them and send them to jail for repeat offenses. In July, the Knesset approved the bill amid a stormy plenum vote. The bill passed with 42 for and 36 against, with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) members of the government threatening consequences after coalition members voted in support of the bill.
“In the State of Israel there is a type of lethal drug,” said Dr. Tzvi Fishel, chairman of the Israel Psychological Association.  “This drug is dangerous and can kill. This drug is not effective but gives the illusion that it is. This drug is mistakenly called ‘conversion therapy.’ It is not a therapy and there is no conversion at the end. But there is a lot of suffering and distress and using it leads to depression, anxiety and suicide.”
“We sat for many months, reading studies and position papers, hearing shocking testimonies from people who have undergone these treatments,” said Fishel. “In the end, the conclusion was: there is no efficacy, there is danger and these treatments should not be referred to.”
“The intention is not to keep psychiatric treatment from those who are looking for it, but psychiatric therapy has the role of exploring together with the patient the intricacies of his soul and allowing him freedom of choice in his life,” explained Fishel. “Mental therapy aims to alleviate distress and not increase it.”
Shoshana Raizel, who began conversion therapy at the age of 13, spoke to the committee about how she underwent therapy through an organization that is now known as Hosen after she was referred by the Atzat Nefesh organization, which also provides conversion therapy.
The therapy Raizel underwent involved her being told to hurt herself, to sleep with her friends and being told by the therapist that it was preferable that she be “straight and dead than gay and alive.” The psychologist did not request permission from her parents, despite the fact that she as a minor.
Yesh Atid MK Idan Roll, who is married to a man, stressed that “this is not the law that the LGBTQ+ community is waiting for,” as most conversion therapies are provided by clergy and not psychologists and won’t be affected by the bill.
Roll added that there were already reports that the bill would not go any further and that the government intended to bring the bill to the committee, “to make fun of our esteemed committee and to stop the bill.”
Roll called on committee chairman Haim Katz to ensure that the bill did not get stuck in the committee.
Yamina MK Ofir Katz spoke out against the bill, saying that the implementation of a criminal punishment could harm the relationship between therapists and patients. Katz stated that such a sensitive topic shouldn’t be discussed within the framework of the law.
A person who spoke under condition of anonymity and was referred to as “Yud” told the committee over Zoom that he had undergone conversion therapy without being forced to and was successfully married and raising a family. “I know dozens like me,” said the person.
United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus told the committee that, to him, the bill seemed to ban all forms of conversion therapy, including those that are psychological therapies and do not involve abuse.
“It is not possible to define what is normal,” he said. “Everyone has their own opinion. In the end, they may have forgotten here that we also happen to be a Jewish state, and if the Jewish religion does define what’s normal, there’s a book, the Bible, that’s translated in all languages, you can read there exactly what the definition is. So if someone wants to live according to the Jewish religion in Israel, not allowing him this is something that I feel is against all reason.”
“The memories I had to bring up at night prior to this discussion are to let you understand this horrible torture did not let me sleep,” said Rafael Kelner Polisuk, a religious Israeli who underwent conversion therapy. “We are talking here about a choice but I did not really have a choice. I was a 19-year-old guy, my whole world and dreams were my yeshiva and I realized that the day I leave the treatment, I end my life. The mental stress on such a boy is impossible.”
Multiple times throughout the discussion, participants entered shouting matches, with the committee chairman at one point telling two MKs, “You want to fight? Go outside and go crazy.”
“As usual, however, those who were ‘converted’ – spoke anonymously, and those who did not speak anonymously, were not really ‘converted,’” said the coalition of religious Jewish LGBTQ+ organizations, including Shoval, Havruta and Bat Kol in response to the meeting. “There is no question that anyone who deliberately came out against the law belonged to the conversion agencies or the hate lobby.”
“During the hearing, they also denied the existence of religious LGBTQ+ people and our community, in disgusting allegations about the inability to mix the religious identity and LGBTQ+ identity,” added the coalition. “We invite anyone who wants to come and get to know us, our beautiful families, and the Torah and mitzvot keepers in our community. Heaven willing, we will continue to fight against the lie of conversion, and with God’s help we will do and succeed.”