JERUSALEM (HPD) — Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked his coalition allies Sunday for saying they will propose laws to discriminate against LGBTQ people, saying LGBTQ rights will not be violated during his rule.
Netanyahu is poised to lead the most nationalist and religious government in Israeli history, between his Likud party and others who are outspokenly anti-LGBTQ. This has sparked fears among the LGBTQ community that the new government, which is likely to take office next week, will reverse gains made by that sector in recent years.
Orit Struck, a parliamentarian for the Religious Zionism party, said her party will propose changing the country’s anti-discrimination law to allow people to refuse to perform acts that go against their religious beliefs — including discriminating against LGBTQ people in hospitals.
In an interview Sunday with Kan radio, Struck said that “as long as there are other doctors who can provide care,” religious health workers should have the right to refuse to help LGBTQ people.
Simcha Rotman, another member of that party, declared that private businessmen, including hotel owners, should have the right to refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people “if it hurts their religious feelings.”
Netanyahu stated that Struck’s comments “are unacceptable to me and members of the Likud” and that the coalition agreement “does not allow discrimination against LGBTQ people or the violation of their rights to receive services like all other citizens of Israel”.
The outgoing government took small steps to advance the rights of the LGBTQ community, lifting the ban on blood donations from gay men, facilitating access to sex change surgery, and clear opposition to “conversion therapy,” based on the discredited belief that an LGBTQ person can be “converted” to be heterosexual with therapy.
The incoming government includes two ultra-Orthodox parties that ban women from politics, and the Religious Zionism party, a broad movement whose leaders are explicitly homophobic.
As the controversy escalated, Netanyahu later released a second video in which he says he “totally rejects” Struck’s comments.
“In the country that I will lead, there will be no situation where a person — whether LGBT, Arab or ultra-Orthodox — walks into a hotel and is denied services, or walks into a doctor’s office and is denied services,” Netanyahu said. .
The controversy comes just days after the daily Yediot Ahronot reported that another member of the Religious Zionism alliance, the far-right faction Noam, once compiled a list of LGBTQ journalists and claimed that “the LGBT press” is a factor of political pressure. “of incomparable strength.”
The controversy led the country’s president, Isaac Herzog, to express his own concerns. In Israel, the president is a largely ceremonial position that seeks to be the country’s moral guide and a factor of national unity.
“A situation where an Israeli citizen feels threatened by his identity or his faith undermines the basic democratic and moral values of the State of Israel,” Herzog said. “The racist comments heard in recent days against the LGBT community and in general against different sectors of society worry me and disturb me a lot,” Herzog said.
LGBTQ people openly serve in the military and are members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament). Several figures in the arts and entertainment, as well as former ministers, are openly gay. Even so, leaders of that community insist that Israel has a long way to go to achieve equality.
Netanyahu and his allies won a majority in the Knesset in the Nov. 1 election. Last week, the leader announced that he had managed to form a coalition to govern. However, the government has not yet been sworn in, and Netanyahu and his allies are still negotiating power-sharing deals.
Netanyahu served as prime minister for 12 years before being defeated in elections last year.