Israel's parliament moves towards ban on gay 'conversion therapy'


Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel's parliament took a step towards criminalising gay "conversion therapy" on Wednesday, giving preliminary approval to a bill banning the practice widely regarded as a human rights violation.

The bill, introduced by the head of the left-wing Meretz party, opposition lawmaker Nitzan Horowitz, was approved by Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in a vote of 42 to 36.

The bill must pass through two more Knesset readings before becoming law and could be ultimately blocked by members of the centre-right governing coalition, possibly on grounds that it originated from the opposition.

Horowitz described the vote as an "historic moment".

His proposal targets psychologists who administer conversion therapy, withdrawing their licenses for a period of at least five years.

Following Wednesday's vote, ultra-Orthodox leader Yaakov Litzman, who is housing minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, condemned as "rotten" coalition partners who supported the bill.

Earlier this month, the United Nations independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called for a global conversion therapy ban.

In his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Madrigal-Borloz offered evidence that conversion therapy involved beatings, rape, electrocution, forced medication, confinement, forced nudity, verbal humiliation and other acts of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Israel's health ministry has already branded conversion therapy as hazardous to those subjected to it.

Or Keshet of the Israeli rights group AGUDA said the practice persists in Israel, "mainly in religious circles," where homosexuality remains taboo.

"It is estimated that several thousand people have undergone conversion therapy in Israel," Keshet told AFP.

Last year, far-right lawmaker Rafi Peretz, who was education minister at the time, voiced support for conversion therapy, triggering an outcry.

Netanyahu called Peretz's comments "unacceptable".

In March 2018, the European parliament passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy and urging member states to ban it.

In March this year, the Canadian government announced a bill to outlaw the practice.