Citing ‘breach of trust’ by Gantz, Likud to block legislation at panel next week

Amsalem says Blue and White support for bill banning gay conversion therapy hurts relations; Nissenkorn says Likud broke that trust first by backing probe of judges

Communications Minister David Amsalem, speaks during a ceremony at the Communications Ministry in Jerusalem, July 10, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
File: David Amsalem, speaks during a ceremony at the Communications Ministry in Jerusalem, July 10, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Friday said it would prevent any bills from progressing through the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next week, in response to the Blue and White party’s support of a bill banning gay conversion therapy by psychotherapists, in defiance of the coalition’s position.

Likud Minister David Amsalem, who is the liaison between the Knesset and government and who holds veto power at the committee, informed the committee chair, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, that “in light of the breach of the agreement reached…on the ‘conversion law,’ no bills will be advanced at the committee this week, except for urgent laws related to coronavirus.”

He added: “Cooperation between the parties of the coalition is built on trust, when this is broken it is difficult to continue working together. This week’s incident was particularly serious.”

A Blue and White source told the Walla news site in response: “Most bills on the agenda for next week are Likud’s. If Amsalem doesn’t want to advance them, that’s his right.”

Nissenkorn responded that Likud had broken trust first, breaking with the coalition agreement earlier this month by supporting the formation of a state commission of inquiry to probe Supreme Court judges’ alleged conflicts of interests, which was opposed by Blue and White. That move was ultimately rejected by the parliament, despite Likud’s support.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“Cooperation is indeed based on trust, and so I am surprised by Likud’s decision to break coalition discipline in order to harm the rule of law and investigate judges,” Nissenkorn said.

He added: “The decision to breach the coalition agreement on the [state] budget is also odd, during a time when citizens need economic stability.”

Though the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White mandates a two-year budget, Netanyahu has been pushing for a budget that will only cover the rest of 2020, citing the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Gantz, however, has insisted that a two-year budget be passed, as stipulated in the coalition deal, saying it would provide greater financial certainty to those hurt economically by the government’s lockdown measures.

But commentators believe there are other issues at stake, as the passage of only a one-year budget — or the failure to pass one at all — could allow Netanyahu to enter new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz as stipulated by the coalition deal.

This week’s bill outlawing “conversion therapy” by psychotherapists, which many gay activists have testified is ineffectual and incredibly damaging, passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Wednesday, drawing cheers from LGBT rights advocates and angering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies.

The bill advanced after Blue and White supported the legislation, in a move that generated a fresh coalition crisis. The government’s Labor party also broke with the coalition to back the bill.

The opposition-spearheaded motion passed with 42 lawmakers supporting it and 36 objecting.

The Knesset plenum on July 22, 2020. (Screenshot: Knesset Channel)

Among the supporters were many Blue and White MKs, as well as Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, an openly gay member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, whose members were officially told to vote against the bill. Many other Likud ministers and lawmakers were not present.

Gay conversion therapies, also called reparative therapies, have been strongly discouraged in Israel, the US and elsewhere, with major health organizations criticizing what they term pseudo-scientific methods and the treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

Though discouraged by the Health Ministry, the practice remains legal in Israel, and is still accepted in some conservative and Orthodox circles. The proposed legislation only bars psychotherapists from performing conversion therapy and doesn’t forbid rabbis from continuing to perform it.

The bill still has to pass three readings and be approved by a Knesset committee before it becomes law and the practice is outlawed.

After the vote results were announced, many in the plenum started applauding, but ultra-Orthodox lawmakers were visibly furious.

They shouted at Gantz, “You will not be prime minister,” an apparent threat to topple the government before the defense minister is set to replace Netanyahu as premier in November 2021.

Likud sources accused Blue and White of violating the coalition agreement, which states that no decisions — apart from West Bank annexation — can be promoted without the mutual agreement of both parties.

“Blue and White are creating cracks in the coalition and leading Israel to elections… it’s brazen and shameless, against all coalition agreements,” Amsalem told the Knesset after the vote.

Most Popular
read more: