The New Israel Fund tracks legislation in the Knesset that could change the way Israeli democracy functions. We will provide regular updates throughout this Knesset session.
Knesset Committee Discusses Anti-Conversion Therapy Bill
On Monday, the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee discussed a bill, originally introduced by Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz and MK Merav Michaeli (Labor), which prohibits the use of “conversion therapy,” a set of discredited, ineffective, and harmful interventions that aim to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. The Labor and Welfare Committee heard testimony from LGBTQ victims of conversation therapy about the psychological damage caused by the practice. The bill would prohibit psychologists in Israel from practicing “reparative” or “conversion” therapy. Critics of the legislation who would prefer to see stronger prohibitions note that the bill’s language only applies to licensed psychologists and does not restrict rabbis or clergy from engaging in the practice.
Despite opposition from the government, the bill passed a preliminary reading in July with the support of Blue and White, causing a rupture with ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) announced this week that that official Justice Ministry forms would be revised to replace the categories of “mother/father” so they are more inclusive to gay and single-parent families. Justice Minister Nissenkorn said, via Twitter, “I am sure that the move in the Ministry of Justice will be a catalyst for similar steps by other ministries for the benefit of all Israeli citizens of every stripe.”
Budget Crisis Unresolved
The standoff between Blue and White and Likud which has plagued this so-called “emergency” government since this summer continues unabated. Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz has threatened that if Netanyahu does not agree to a budget for 2021, as is required by the terms of their coalition agreement, by mid-November, his party will either force new elections or lend support to an alternative government led by a member of the opposition, such as his former political partner, MK Moshe Ya’alon or Opposition Chairman Yair Lapid.
Last week, Gantz told Yediot Aharonot that the prime minister was “endangering Israel’s economic future,” and likened Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a budget, to “a crime against the state and its citizens.” Gantz explained to the journalist Nahum Barnea, that Israel’s Finance Minister Israel Katz “is delaying the budget’s approval in order to give Netanyahu an exit point in March.” Refusing to agree to a long-term budget would force new elections, dissolving the coalition before the rotation agreement his party struck with Blue and White, and preventing the premiership from passing to Alternative Prime Minister Gantz. Media reports from a Blue and White faction meeting this week indicate that Gantz has told his party colleagues that he does not believe that Netanyahu has any intention of honoring the alternation agreement they struck earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Benny Gantz’s participation in a Netanyahu-led government was the subject of protest outside his home over the past several days. Opposition MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano (Yesh Atid), who participated in the protest told to journalist Orly Barlev, “the unforgivable, shameful and intolerable entry of Benny Gantz into the government [is] the only reason that today, the prime minister of Israel is Binyamin Netanyahu. His entry into the government, his support of him, is allowing him to rule and to impose his destructive policy leading to the disaster we are in.”
Netanyahu Says Annexation Remains the Ultimate Aim
On October 29, the Netanyahu government signed bilateral agreements with the Trump administration, extending the geographic purview of long-standing US-Israel scientific cooperation agreements to include the West Bank, extending effective US recognition of Israel’s de facto annexation of settlements in the West Bank.
After a number of local leaders were excluded from meetings surrounding the signing ceremonies at Ariel University in the West Bank, Netanyahu reassured settler leaders that annexation remains the ultimate aim of his administration: “Today’s event [the signing of amendments to the bilateral US-Israel scientific agreements] is a historic correction,” he said. “Not everyone understands, we are in the middle of navigation. Just as in navigation you do not progress in a straight line and sometimes you even have to go backward a little. You can see that we know how to navigate and progress to the destination. It’s important to explain to friends, I need your help.”
Senior White House adviser Avi Berkowitz, affirmed in an interview with Army radio, that from the perspective of the Trump administration, “the annexation has not yet been dropped from the agenda. It is something that can be done later and it is not something we do not agree with.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s policy of de facto annexation, including through demolitions of homes in the West Bank continues. Israel carried out one of the largest demolition operations in a decade, destroying seventy structures in Humsa al-Fuqa, a Beduoin settlement in the Jordan Valley. Some 73 people, including 41 children, were made homeless as a result.
And in response to a petition to the Supreme Court from the far-right NGO Regavim demanding that the government move forward with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community in the southern West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister asked the Court for a delay. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said that this action may constitute a war crime.