Ex-gay conversion therapists flee US, find home in Israel

Ex-gay conversion “therapy” is in retreat throughout much of the United States. Not only is momentum building to ban it on a state-by-state basis, but the federal government and President Obama have also endorsed bans on the practice on the grounds that it is unscientific abuse.

While the practice is still legal in way too many parts of the country, it’s fair to say that it’s going out of style.

But the people who have been practicing ex-gay conversion “therapy,” but are no longer able to due to state-level bans, aren’t content to find other work. Instead, they’re moving to a place where they are free to abuse LGBT teens: Israel.

From the Associated Press:

LGBT Israel, via Wikimedia Commons

LGBT Israel, via Wikimedia Commons

A leading American Jewish group promoting therapy it said could turn gays to heterosexuals was ordered shut in December by a New Jersey court, amid growing efforts in the U.S. to curb the generally discredited practice. But therapists with ties to the shuttered group say they have found a haven for their work in Israel.

Israel’s Health Ministry advises against so-called “gay conversion” or “reparative” therapy, calling it scientifically dubious and potentially dangerous, but no law limits it. In Israel, practitioners say their services are in demand, mostly by Orthodox Jewish men trying to reduce their same-sex attractions so they can marry women and raise a traditional family according to their conservative religious values.

Clients also include Jewish teenagers from the U.S. and other countries who attend post-high school study programs at Orthodox seminaries in Israel. Half of all such students attend seminaries that require youth who admit to having homosexual feelings to see reparative therapy practitioners, according to the Yeshiva Inclusion Project, a group that counsels gay prospective students.

Yeah, remember JONAH? The Orthodox Jewish conversion therapy group that a New Jersey jury unanimously found guilty of fraud for claiming that they could “cure” teenagers of their same-sex attractions? Its members are setting up shop in Israel, since what was totally illegal in New Jersey is perfectly legal there.

The Israel Psychological Association and Israel’s Health Ministry have taken a similar position as their counterparts in the United States, finding that there is no evidence that LGBT people can be “converted.” However, practitioners who have set up shop in Israel after leaving the US have said that the reception they get in Israel is far more welcoming.

I can’t imagine why.

Activists and lawyers in Israel argue that, while ex-gay conversion “therapy” may not be outlawed in Israel, it’s possible to make a legal case that practitioners who don’t inform clients of the Israeli government’s position on the practice could have their psychological licenses revoked. However, while practitioners currently don’t regularly provide clients with that information, they don’t seem to think being required to do so would matter that much. As the AP continued:

[Ex-gay practitioner Dr. Elan] Karten says he tells patients he cannot guarantee therapy will succeed, but that it is not a routine part of his therapy to discuss with them the government positions.

“Let’s say someone’s coming to me, and they’re religious. They could open the position statement of the Israel Psychological Association, or they could open the Torah,” he said. “They’re going to probably look at what the IPA says and say, ‘That’s nice, but I still have this to contend with. I have dreams to be a father and a husband.'”

Placed in the context of the recent intra-progressive debate over LGBT equality in Israel, cases like these go to show that while Israel is in many ways progressive on social equality, its government and culture still privilege religious fundamentalism to a dangerous degree. Religious hucksters whose religious beliefs and practices are considered too unfounded and harmful to be tolerated in the United States are able to find acceptance for those unfounded and harmful beliefs in Israel.

It goes to show how much work there is to be done — even in countries we think of as relatively gay-friendly.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

Share This Post

  • 2karmanot

    Gawd forbid that we should critique precious Israel.

  • emjayay

    I’m guessing the Ultra-Orthodox are the key to this, as mentioned in the post. There’s lots of them in Brooklyn and New Jersey, but they aren’t essentially in many ways in control like they are in Israel. Their patriarchal sexist homophobic culture is simply channeling the culture of the Middle East from a couple thousand years ago, not most Muslims.

  • JohnMyroro

    Israel may be more progressive than its neighbors, but it’s still a theocracy. They’ll probably try to pinkwash this by talking about Muslims throwing gays off buildings or something. “Sure, we allow homophobic charlatanism and abuse, but at least we don’t kill them.”
    Criticize Israel, though, and you’re called antisemitic.

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