Politician suggests doctors could refuse to treat LGBTQ+ people due to religious beliefs

A graphic depicting the flag of Israel with a rainbow LGBTQ+ Progressive Pride flag in the background

A conservative politician in Israel has suggested doctors be allowed to refuse to treat LGBTQ+ people, drawing swift condemnation from fellow legislators. 

Orit Strock is a member of the far-right Religious Zionism Party, a coalition partner in the new Israeli government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and is set to become the national missions minister. 

In a radio interview, Strock spoke about legislation her party is drafting and implied doctors would soon have the ability to refuse to treat people, including LGBTQ+ patients, on religious grounds, The Times of Israel reported.

The proposed new measures would be brought in as part of coalition agreements as part of reforms to Israel’s anti-discrimination law. 

Strock said the laws would allow medical professionals to refuse service if it violates their religious beliefs, on the condition there is another doctor who can provide treatment. 

“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,” Strock said.

You may like to watch

She continued: “Anti-discrimination laws are just and right when they create a just, equal, open and inclusive society. 

“But there is a certain deviation in which religious faith is trampled upon and we want to amend this.”

Israeli Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich (L), leader of the Religious Zionist Party, speaks with his colleague and party member Orit Strook (R) during a session elect
Orit Strock (R) later tweeted that LGBTQ+ people “deserve respect”, but she believed doctors shouldn’t be “forced” to provide medical treatment that goes against their religious beliefs. (Getty)

Strock later tweeted she had been referring to medical procedures that would be deemed religiously objections, not LGBTQ+ individuals, but she didn’t specify what treatments she was talking about during the interview. 

She wrote that LGBTQ+ people are “human beings” and “deserve respect”. But she stressed doctors should not be “forced” to provide medical treatment that they religiously object to, “regardless of the identity of the patient”. 

Similar laws in the US already permit healthcare providers to decline to serve people if they feel doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Seven states in the US have targeted religious exemptions that permit medical professionals to decline to serve LGBTQ+ clients, according to think-tank Movement Advancement Project

Advocates and legal experts said the laws raise further barriers LGBTQ+ people and other marginalised groups face when accessing healthcare. There have been several legal battles to fight discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in healthcare settings in the US.

Politicians condemned Orit Strock’s ‘unacceptable’ comments. 

Netanyahu described Strock’s remarks as “unacceptable” and emphatically said the coalition agreements don’t 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,” Netanyahu added.

An Israeli flag frames thousands of people marching in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade in Jerusalem, Israel
New Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Orit Strock’s comments “unacceptable”. (Getty)

 Israeli president Isaac Herzog said a situation in which citizens feel “threatened due to their identity or beliefs negates the basic democratic and moral values” of the state, Israel National News reported. 

“The racist statements heard in recent days against the LGBT community and in general against different sectors and communities, deeply worry and disturb me,” Herzog said. 

Herzog opposed any statement that “acts as a basis for exclusion or any phenomenon that allows discrimination”.

But Strock’s comment is not the only to cause concern among human rights activists in Israel.

Another Religious Zionist legislator, Simcha Rothman, asserted, under the new legislative change, hotel owners and other businesses would be able to refuse rooms to LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds. 

“The law states that a business cannot discriminate for a whole variety of reasons,” Rothman said.

“This bill [proposed by his party] seeks not to abolish the general prohibition on discrimination but says that when there is a religious obstacle for someone to do something, it will be permissible for him to withhold service — rather than force him to do something that contravenes his beliefs.”

An Israeli flag, with the colours of the LGBTQ+ pride flag, waves above a crowd of people marching in a pride parade
LGBTQ+ advocates warned changes in legislation that discrimination against queer people on religious grounds will “affect not not only the gay community but all Israeli society”. (Getty)

Hila Peer, chair of the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, condemned comments from Strock and Rothman and described the proposed law as disgraceful. Peer also called on Netanyahu to oppose the legislation. 

“MKs Strock and Rothman want to mark out LGBT people so that we’ll remain in our homes as in the dark days of humanity,” Peer said.

“We will not agree to this in any way.”

Alon Shachar, executive director of Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, said these new changes are liable to usher in a “situation in which LGBTQ people return to living in a reality of fear, violence and racism”

“If these ideas materialise and become reality in deeds they will affect not only the gay community but all Israeli society,” Shachar said. 

Please login or register to comment on this story.