Photo Credit: Olivier FItoussi/Flash90
MK Simcha Rothman in the Knesset, June 26, 2022.

Since the establishment of a right-wing government with a 64-mandate majority, the media have resumed their campaign of slander and fraud.

You’ve read a lot of things this week, and maybe it’s good practice for the next four years of right-wing rule in which we’ll live from one media-generated crisis to another, with little truth.


Let’s start with the simple stuff. There is no proposal, plan, desire or ambition to allow discrimination against any person. It doesn’t matter if they are LGBT, Jewish, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, Russian, man, woman or any other division you wish.

We want the Israeli version of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado (2018), that dealt with whether owners of public accommodations can refuse certain services based on the First Amendment claims of free speech and free exercise of religion, and therefore be granted an exemption from laws ensuring non-discrimination in public accommodations—in particular, by refusing to provide creative services, such as making a custom wedding cake for the marriage of a gay couple on the basis of the owner’s religious beliefs. The court ruled 7–2 on narrow grounds that the Commission did not employ religious neutrality, violating Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips’s rights to free exercise, and reversed the Commission’s decision.

I don’t expect to convince those behind the biased and political campaign against us, but it’s important that you know my position, as well as the legal situation, its problems, and the actual proposed amendment to the law.

1. My principled position is that the law prohibiting discrimination in products and services should apply to the state and public service providers that are monopolies, and should not apply to private businesses. In other words, public hospitals and schools receiving state funding will be subject to the law prohibiting discrimination. However, the principle of freedom of occupation will apply to a private business whose owner is entitled to conducting their business as they see fit in a manner consistent with the principle of individual freedom.

Without anything to do with gays, religious people, or settlers – a private business may act as it pleases, and I believe in the market forces that would ensure that arbitrary discrimination against people does not pay off. We already see that banks and companies have announced that they reject discrimination and I certainly welcome it, as I have said explicitly, including in several interviews.

Incidentally, for this very reason exactly, I opposed MK Shuli Moalem’s amendment to the law that added prohibiting discrimination in a place of residence, which supposedly would have benefited me as a settler in an outpost.

2. Today the law in the State of Israel prohibits business owners from discriminating for a variety of reasons, and we are not proposing to change it in our bill. The law is not intended to make it possible to discriminate against anyone because of their sexual orientation, race, or origin.

3. Nevertheless, we have reached several absurdities under the auspices of the existing law, which under the guise of preventing discrimination against people or groups impose actions or deeds on individuals contrary to their beliefs.

The law has morphed into persecuting people or is being used for political harassment.

For example, the owner of a Haredi printing shop in Be’er Sheva was forced to print invitations to a pride parade. In response, the owner of a printing shop in Umm al-Fahm was forced to print invitations to ascend to the Temple Mount.

Newspapers have been forced to publish ads that contradicted and harmed their worldview, and harmed Messianic Jews who operated an event hall in the Jerusalem mountains and became subjected to legal persecution.

4. In a normal world, this matter would be resolved by judges with common sense, who would recognize such lawsuits as harassment and dismiss them. But in Israel, the judicial system turns them into flagship cases. Hence the proposed amendment to the law, that wherever a person is asked to perform action that’s contrary to his belief, his refusal to carry it out will not be considered discrimination.

5. This legislation has no special connection to the LGBT, just as it has no special connection to Islam, or to skin color, which is what I repeated in interviews. It is an assertion of the principle that a free country does not force a person to act in his private business contrary to his faith.

I am similarly not a fan of forcing artists to perform in Judea and Samaria if this goes against their belief. But you should note that despite the current illegality, when artists refused to entertain settlers, the left did not call it discrimination nor empathized with the hurt feelings of the settlers. On the contrary, Justice Hanan Meltzer rejected a government decree that suggested a funding preference to artists who “do not discriminate” against settlers.

6. Is a slippery slope or misuse of the proposed clause possible? Maybe. As we have seen, the current clause, too, can be misused. Therefore, my principled position would be to waive the entire section and allow civil society, which has more common sense than judges and lawmakers, to deal with the problematic cases and recognize the cases that are mere harassments.

In summary: I have not and will never call for harm to the LGBT community or any group in Israeli society. But it looks like, after a year and a half during which the media avoided dealing with LGBT rights so as not to embarrass a government that relied on Muslim extremists like MK Walid Taha and the rest of the Ra’am party, now that we are establishing a right-wing government, the media are champing at the bit to pull the public discourse to these places, never mind all the other, much more urgent issues in Israeli society.

Unfortunately, in the next four years the media will make every effort to tarnish the right-wing government. But it won’t deter us from working to restore governance, promote reform in the judicial system, promote Israel’s economy, and strengthen Israel’s Jewish character.

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Simcha Rothman is a candidate for the Knesset with the Religious Zionist party.