Israel Takes First Step Toward Banning Conversion Therapy

Tel Aviv protest against conversion therapy
Israelis oppose conversion therapy in a July 2019 protest in Tel Aviv. (Photo by Mathew Shurka)

In a historic development, a bill to ban conversion therapy passed a first vote by 42 to 36 in Israel’s Knesset. Under the current bill, psychologists who violate the ban could be fined or lose their licenses.

Conversion therapy is an effort to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Supporters of the ban cited the needless suffering of survivors of this therapy.

“The ban is a historic opportunity for Israel to protect LGBTQ people,” said Mathew Shurka, co-founder and chief strategist of Born Perfect. “Conversion therapy causes serious harm – depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and sometimes suicide. It is fraudulent and harmful and has no place in Israeli society.” As a teenager, Shurka endured five years of conversion therapy. Shurka’s therapist taught him to falsely blame an “overbearing mother” and “distant father” for his orientation.

Born Perfect has worked with survivors and LGBTQ advocates to support bans globally.

While the ban is popular with the Israeli public, the vote required members of the Knesset to break with their coalitions. Ruth Gophen of the Israeli Medical LGBT Association told Born Perfect, “Most of the people in Israel understand the harms of conversion therapy and thankfully despite politics, the vote passed.”

In the Jerusalem Post this morning, Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz called the ban “amazing news for the Israeli public and the LGBTQ+ community at whole. Today a historic change is beginning in Israel. I thank the members of the Knesset 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 proud community. You helped save lives today.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted, “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.”

Ruth Gophen, Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, and three conversion therapy survivors

The latest effort to ban conversion therapy in Israel began in July 2019 when Israel’s new education minister, Rafi Peretz, supported conversion therapy and said he had actually performed it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later publicly distanced himself from that position, according to Reuters.

Backlash against conversion therapy grew. Shurka told Newsweek that the incident presented a moment for the LGBTQ community “to see which elected officials stand where.”

“The Education Minister’s support for this life-threatening practice is dangerous and irresponsible. It is shocking that any public official would disregard the medical consensus that conversion therapy is ineffective and unsafe. Research has shown that being subjected to conversion therapy puts LGBTQ youth at high risk of suicide and depression.”

Shurka joined more than 1,000 demonstrators protesting in front of the Kiryat HaMemshala government building in Tel Aviv. The protesters included conversion therapy survivors who shared their stories of abuse, as well as activists, teachers, students and parents.

Before today’s vote, Ohad Hizki, director-general of Aguda, The Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, called this a “moment of truth” for Israel’s governing alliances.

The Israel Psychological Association strongly supports the ban.

“The considered treatments were not found to be helpful, and they could cause real damage,” the Israel Psychological Association said before the vote. Conversion therapy could lead to “mental damage, including anxiety, depression and suicide. Other possible damage includes isolation and social withdrawal, difficulty making intimate and sexual connections, avoiding social connections, harm to religious belief, anger and distancing toward parents.”

Dr. Tzvi Fishel, Chairman of the Israel Psychological Association, praised the bill’s passage. In today’s Jerusalem Post, Fishel cited fraudulent “therapists who violated the first rule of medical ethics: ‘First do not harm!’”

Born Perfect is a survivor-led program created by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) in 2014 to end conversion therapy by passing laws across the country that protect LGBTQ children and young people, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices.

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