A proposal by one of incoming ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israeli doctors should be allowed to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients on religious grounds has raised fears that the new government poses an unprecedented threat to gay rights.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog condemned the growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, saying, “The racist statements of recent days against the LGBTQ community and other sectors of the public deeply concern and worry me.” The president, whose position is largely ceremonial but carries a degree of authority, added that such rhetoric undermined Israel’s “democratic and moral values.”
Netanyahu – who called Strook’s comments “unacceptable” – denies his new government will pose a threat to gay rights, but critics say he is too weak to control his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, who are pushing Israel toward ever-increasing accepting what they consider to be a divinely consecrated religious heritage. .
In a Sunday radio interview, incoming Minister of State for Missions Orit Strook of the Religious Zionist Party was widely understood to suggest that Israeli doctors will be able to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients under the spirit of legislation her party is drafting and in line with coalition agreements. which provide for the amendment of the anti-discrimination law.
Strook explained that a doctor can refuse care to a patient if doing so violates the patient’s religious beliefs “as long as there are enough other doctors who can provide that service.”
Following sharp criticism of her remarks, Strook, the leader of the illegal Israeli settler community in Hebron, later tweeted that she was referring to medical procedures that would be religiously objectionable, not LGBTQ individuals. She did not specify what the procedures were, but emphasized that it was unthinkable to force a Jewish doctor to violate Jewish law in a Jewish state “which was established after 2,000 years of exile because of Jews who sacrificed their lives to fulfill the Torah.” .
Strook’s client is pushing to change the anti-discrimination law to allow exemptions for service providers where the provider’s religious beliefs would be violated. This principle is also stipulated in Netanyahu’s coalition agreement with the ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism party.
Another religious Zionist lawmaker, Simcha Rothman, said on Sunday that under the amendment, hotel owners would be able to refuse rooms to gay groups. “Freedom of profession means that one is allowed to deal unkindly with the supply of customers and to boycott them or not to boycott them.”
The changes to the law, if implemented, are also expected to affect citizens of Israel’s Arab minority and pave the way for further inroads by Jewish fundamentalist religious Zionism, which also supports the annexation of the occupied West Bank. Netanyahu repeated his promise that his government would not harm the LGBTQ community, but members of his Likud party refused to change the coalition agreement.
Ofer Newman, executive director of IGY (Israel Gay Youth), called the statements and the legislative plan “dangerous.” He predicted more violence and abuse against his community. “We are in a new situation in which politicians who want to push people back into the closet have ministerial power. We are in a scared and alert mindset.”
Alon Shachar, executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, said: “The changes the new government wants to implement may lead us to a situation where LGBTQ people return to living in a reality of fear, violence and racism.
“If these ideas materialize and become reality, they will affect not only the gay community, but the entire Israeli society.”
Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister, pointed out that Netanyahu might accede to their demands because he needed far-right parties to legislatively weaken the judiciary so that corruption cases against him would be dropped.
“Because Netanyahu is very, very weak, he has no way [to deal] with these extremist forces, some of whom are lunatics,” Beilin said. “Maybe he doesn’t intend to do these things, but I’m not sure he can get away with it. These people are really zealots.”
“We’ve never been in a situation like this before. The jury is out. We may be facing a different Israel with halacha [Jewish law] as an attraction to be supported by people living in darkness.
Netanyahu plans to vote on his new government in parliament on Thursday, December 29, just days before his term ends, the speaker of the parliament said on Monday.
Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties won parliamentary elections last month, but the veteran leader has had a harder-than-expected time finalizing coalition deals.