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Health Ministry bans ‘conversion therapy’ by medical professionals

Minister Horowitz says prohibition, including punitive measures against violators, is needed to stop ‘soul-destroying’ practice

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, right, ministry director-general Nachman Ash, center, and Dr. Zvi Fishel, Chairman of the National Mental Health Council hold a press conference on banning conversion therapy, in Tel Aviv, February 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, right, ministry director-general Nachman Ash, center, and Dr. Zvi Fishel, Chairman of the National Mental Health Council hold a press conference on banning conversion therapy, in Tel Aviv, February 14, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Monday announced a ban on medical professionals engaging in so-called conversion therapy, saying the bar is a life-saving measure aimed at stamping out a practice that “kills the soul.”

A directive by Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash bans medical professionals from proposing or attempting the controversial therapy, which claims to reorient LBGTQ patients toward heterosexuality, and enables punitive action against those who violate the order.

“Treatment is something that is supposed to help, so that what is called ‘conversion therapy’ is really not ‘treatment’ but cruel abuse,” Horowitz said at a press conference with Ash and Zvi Fishel, chairman of the National Mental Health Council.

The directive stated that sexual preference is not a medical psychological problem requiring treatment and that “there is no clinical way to change it.” It noted that there is no accepted research evidence to show that conversion therapy is successful.

“The Health Ministry prohibits all professional bodies from offering or administering such treatment,” the directive said.

Horowitz said that any professional who violates the order would face punitive action that could include revoking their licenses.

He called the directive a “victory” and a “revolution.”

Such therapy, he said, “kills the soul and sometimes the body as well.”

“It leads to self-harm, suicide, and death of more and more members of the gay community whose only sin is simply to be who they are,” Horowitz said.

The “charlatans” who provide “brainwashing” conversion treatment are “destroying lives,” said Horowitz, who is gay himself.

He said declared that the health system would become “a flagship of equal human rights in Israel.”

The Israel Gay Youth organization in a statement called the development a “breakthrough that will save lives, families and future of hundreds of teenage boys and girls in Israel.”

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

The practice remains remains popular in some conservative and religious circles.

In June 2020 a bill sponsored by then-opposition MK Horowitz banning conversion therapy under law passed its first reading in the Knesset, infuriating Orthodox lawmakers. That legislation only sought to bar psychotherapists from performing conversion therapy and didn’t forbid rabbis from continuing to perform it. It has yet to be signed into law.

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