Arabs in Israel Split over Homosexuality
Members of political alliance at odds over bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, approved in a preliminary reading on Wednesday a bill that would ban “gay conversion therapy” by psychological experts, causing a crisis in the governing coalition and division among the Arab community in the country.
Lawmakers from the 15-member Joint List, an Arab-majority alliance of four political parties, split over the bill.
Three of the Hadash party’s five Knesset members supported it, and two did not vote. All four members of the Islamist United Arab List voted against the measure. The remaining Joint List MKs − three from the Balad party and another three from Ta’al − did not vote.
Mansour Dhamshe, an Arab politician and member of Hadash, which was established by the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups and includes Arab and Jewish members, told The Media Line that there were differences of opinion over the matter among Arabs in Israel.
“We have the Islamist and conservative people who believe that homosexuality should have a cure, and others who view the issue as one of personal freedom, where the LGBT people should decide for themselves,” he said.
We have the Islamist and conservative people who believe that homosexuality should have a cure, and others who view the issue as one of personal freedom, where the LGBT people should decide for themselves
He added that some people considered homosexuality an illness yet stressed there were more important matters for the Arab community to concern itself over.
“The Arab street should worry about the increase of violence [i.e., crime] and look for ways to solve that issue before [worrying about] the homosexuality issue,” he stated.
The draft law pales in significance when compared to the issues that Arabs in Israel suffer from, given the actions of the current right-wing government, Dhamshe said.
Conversion therapy is generally considered a pseudoscientific practice that employs invalid and often cruel techniques with the aim of changing the subject’s homosexual orientation. Experts around the world agree that it can cause psychological harm to patients, including depression and suicidal tendencies.
If passed in full, the bill will prohibit psychological experts from carrying out treatments and impose penalties on those who do so. It will not, however, prohibit rabbis from attempting conversion therapy.
Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List segment of the Joint List, told The Media Line that Arab society was not at all divided over the issue of homosexuality, insisting that the people behind the legislation came from an ideological position that aimed to normalize homosexuality and “encourage it in our Arab society.”
Arabs, he continued, were fully aware of how to deal with the phenomenon through their religious principles, whether Islamic, Christian or Druze, as well as through Arab identity and norms.
“Arab society protects its sons and daughters from moral and behavioral deterioration,” he stated. “At the same time, it defends [society’s] Arab and religious identity, in addition to social cohesion, and protects the family from disintegration and loss.”
Arab society protects its sons and daughters from moral and behavioral deterioration. At the same time, it defends [society’s] Arab and religious identity, in addition to social cohesion, and protects the family from disintegration and loss
Ibrahim Bushnaq, an Arab-Israeli journalist, stressed to The Media Line that the division of the Arab street reflected divisions in the leadership and within the Joint List.
“The Arab community is divided for a reason, and a big part of that has to do with the fact that the Joint List itself isn’t united,” he explained.
Bushnaq believes the Knesset faction should unite in order to improve the situation of the Arabs in Israel.
“In the end, people differ, and each segment of society will express itself the way it wants – and they have the right to criticize what they want,” he noted. “But I believe that part of the people’s anger is over the division in their leadership more than over the issue itself.”
Bushnaq adds that he sees the issue as an unnecessary distraction from more urgent matters.