JERUSALEM (AP) — 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.
Proponents in Israel say therapy does not “convert” clients, but boosts self-esteem and masculinity, which they say can reduce homosexuality. In Israel, therapists say there is greater acceptance of their work than in the U.S.
“Since there is such a strong religious presence here, and I think political correctness isn’t as prevalent . there’s more openness about it, about this kind of therapy here,” said Dr. Elan Karten, a U.S.-trained psychologist and Orthodox Jew who has treated about 100 people with homosexual attractions since he opened his Jerusalem practice eight years ago.
Some states in the U.S. have banned such therapy for minors. JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, was shut for violating New Jersey consumer fraud laws by claiming therapy could “heal” homosexuality.
An estimated 20 to 30 licensed psychologists and social workers and 50 non-licensed therapists practice some form of conversion therapy in Israel, said Rabbi Ron Yosef of the Orthodox gay organization Hod, which calls for legislation against such therapy. Gays in Israel who contacted JONAH were referred to some of these therapists.
“I’m extremely concerned,” said Chaim Levin, a former client of JONAH in the U.S. and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against it in New Jersey. “It’s exporting hatred and junk science to Israel. People need to know.”
Leading medical organizations in the U.S. say there is no proof sexual orientation change efforts are effective, and that therapy can reinforce self-hatred, depression and self-harm.