Despite agreeing to change in coalition agreement, Netanyahu says anti-discrimination law won’t be adjusted; Likud source says chances of law being changed are “miniscule.”
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
A clause within the Religious Zionism party’s coalition agreement proposing a change to an anti-discrimination law has sparked widespread controversy in Israel, with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu expressing his opposition to the amendment.
Israel’s current anti-discrimination law, which was passed in 2000, makes it illegal for business owners to deny services to the public based on their actual or perceived religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and marital status.
What is the proposed change to the law?
The Religious Zionism party wants to create a religious exemption to the policy, so that business owners are not forced to act in a manner contrary to their religious beliefs or risk facing steep fines and legal consequences.
The change sought by the Religious Zionism party is meant to ensure that the proprietors of small businesses are not punished for abiding by their religious principles.
The amendment specifically states that business owners can refuse service only if there is a reasonable alternative nearby, meaning that if a business is the only one of its kind in the area, it will not be able to deny service to the public.
Netanyahu agreed to the amendment to the law as part of his Likud party’s coalition deal with Religious Zionism, though recent comments from the leader draw into his question his willingness to allow the change to occur.
Netanyahu: ‘I’ll protect LGBT community’
A statement from Religious Zionism MK Orit Strook implied that her party would like to take the change to the anti-discrimination law a step further and include medical professionals within a protected category of people who should not be forced to provide services that are incompatible with their religious beliefs.
“If a doctor is asked to give any type of treatment to someone that violates his religious faith, if there is another doctor who can do it then you can’t force them to provide treatment,” Strook said in an interview with the KAN radio station on Sunday afternoon.
“Anti-discrimination laws are just and right when they create a just, equal, open and inclusive society,” she added.
She specifically mentioned the policy in the context of a religious doctor being forced to provide fertility treatments to an unmarried woman, saying that the doctor who opposed the procedure should be allowed to request another practicioner to do it.
But LGBT advocates falsely claimed that Strook had said doctors can deny treatment to LGBT patients – an allegation that she publicly denied. Netanyahu released a blistering statement slamming Strook for her comments.
“MK Orit Strook’s words are unacceptable to me and my colleagues in Likud,” Netanyahu said in a statement several hours after the radio interview aired.
“The coalition agreements do not allow for discrimination against LGBT people or for harming the right of any citizen in Israel to receive service. Likud will guarantee that there will be no harm to LGBT people or any Israeli citizen.
“Under my tenure, LGBT people cannot be discriminated against or the rights of Israeli citizens be harmed. This has not happened in my 15 years as Prime Minister and it will not happen now,” he added.
Tuvia Smotrich, the brother of Religious Zionism Chair Betzalel Smotrich, blasted Netanyahu for his remarks.
“You would never have dared to come out against Haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews] in this manner. It’s a shame that instead of outside attacks strengthening the partnership, they weaken it,” he wrote on Twitter.
Why does Religious Zionism want to change the law?
Questions about the application of the anti-discrimination law began after a high-profile legal battle in 2020, which saw an LGBT advocacy group demand that a Beersheba print shop produce flyers promoting LGBT material.
The print shop owners, who are observant Orthodox Jews, declined the request. The LGBT group sued the print shop and won, with a judge ordering the small business to pay a staggering 50,000 shekels ($ 14,000) in fines, as well as the LGBT group’s legal expenses.
Smotrich, then transportation minister, called the ruling “outrageous” and “secular coercion,” bemoaning the fact that the court was “forcing a religious and mitzvah-keeping man to act against his belief at his private business.”
“If in the State of Israel a religious Jew cannot run a business according to his lifestyle, [then] where can he?” said Moshe Yado, the attorney who represented the print shop, shortly after the verdict was made public.
“Every religious Jew knows that the people of Israel have managed to survive thousands of years thanks to the Torah teachings of Israel. The court has forgotten this or perhaps never learned this lesson.”
Will the law actually be changed?
Media attention around the change to anti-discrimination law reached a fever pitch on Monday, as members of the Likud backed Netanyahu’s statement condemning Strook.
“As stated by the incoming Prime Minister, the words of MK Orit Strook are not acceptable to Likud members in general and to me in particular,” MK Miri Regev of the Likud party told Hebrew-language news site Mako.
“As Netanyahu emphasized, the coalition agreements do not allow LGBT people to be discriminated against or to harm their rights to receive services as any citizen in Israel.”
A religious exemption to the anti-discrimination law “won’t happen,” MK Tali Gottlieb, a freshman Likud lawmaker, told Mako.
“We will not give a hand to the violation of human rights generally speaking, and in this case, particularly towards the LGBT community. As Netanyahu said, there will be no violation of the rights of LGBT people. There is nothing unclear about that.”
Likud MK May Golan sniped that she “didn’t remember that Orit Strook is a doctor,” adding that “everyone should stick with their area of expertise and deal with what [legislation] they’re going to promote, instead of spreading chizbets.”
Chizbet is an Arabic slang word meaning horror stories.
A source from within the Likud party told left-wing Hebrew language outlet Haaretz that the chances of change to the law are “minuscule.”
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