JONAH

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JONAH International logo

Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality,[1] was a Jewish non-profit organization which offered conversion therapy and other regimens that purported to change the sexual orientation of homosexual people. JONAH described itself as "dedicated to educating the world-wide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors which lead to same-sex attractions" ("SSA").[2] JONAH's leaders disagree with the consensus of mainstream science and the world's major mental health organizations who say that homosexuality is a matter of genetics and not a disorder.[3][4][5]

On June 25, 2015, in the first-ever trial of conversion therapy in the United States, a New Jersey jury found JONAH guilty of consumer fraud for promising to be able to change its client’s sexual urges and determined its commercial practices to be unconscionable.[6]

On December 18, 2015, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after an agreement by both parties requiring JONAH to shut down entirely and prohibiting founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing from engaging in any form of conversion therapy commerce in New Jersey. The jury in the case found unanimously on June 25 that by offering services it claimed could turn gay people straight, JONAH committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices. Under the agreed to injunction and settlement, the defendants will pay the full $72,400 in damages awarded by the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for the fees they paid to JONAH and for remedial mental health counseling for one plaintiff. The proposed judgment includes a $3.5 million award of legal fees. The plaintiffs agreed to accept an undisclosed portion of that award, but the defendants will be liable for the full amount if they violate the agreement. JONAH is required to shut down all of its operations within 30 days after the order is entered, and its websites and online listservs must be removed. JONAH also will have to liquidate its assets and permanently dissolve as a corporate entity within six months. As part of the settlement, JONAH will not appeal the jury verdict.

In a seminal pre-trial ruling on Feb. 5, 2015, Judge Bariso excluded several leading conversion therapy proponents, including Joseph Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, from testifying as defense experts. Ruling that their opinions were based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder, Bariso wrote that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”


History[edit]

JONAH was created in 1999 in Jersey City, New Jersey by Theodore and Elaine Berk and Arthur and Jane Goldberg. The organization was created after each family had a son who turned out to be homosexual. Arthur Goldberg is a former secretary-treasurer of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality.[1] During the 2014 trial against JONAH, it was revealed that Goldberg's license as a board certified professional counselor was revoked in 2011 because the American Psychotherapy Association learned that Goldberg lied on his application by failing to disclose his felony conviction as a Wall Street municipal bonds manager.[7] In 2000, JONAH provided literature and outreach to gay and bisexual Jews, and their families of all denominations, from the tri-state area with supposed methods of reducing and eliminating homosexuality. JONAH eventually became a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Since then it has expanded to include members in the United States, Israel, Canada, and various European nations. In 2010, JONAH adopted its current logo.[1]

Methodology[edit]

JONAH emphasized the Talmudic understanding of homosexuality as "being led astray" (Nedarim 51a), and therefore of being able "to return", consistent with the Jewish principle of repentance (teshuvah).[8] According to JONAH, same-sex attractions may be mitigated and potentially eliminated.[9] JONAH employed the techniques of Richard Cohen, an unlicensed counsellor who promotes conversion therapy.[10][11] Techniques for overcoming homosexual urges included undressing in front of other men, pummeling an effigy of one's mother, and re-enacting traumatic childhood experiences.[12]

Controversy[edit]

In July 2010, a video published by the organization Truth Wins Out features two former participants of JONAH, Ben Unger and Chaim Levin, alleging that Alan Downing, a JONAH counselor, demanded that his participants strip off all of their clothing in front of a mirror and touch their genitals in his presence. Downing released a statement in response denying the charges.[13] After emails were sent to the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists linking to the video, the organization initially rescinded a previous invitation to Goldberg to speak at their annual convention, but later allowed him to speak. Yael Respler of the Jewish Press printed a letter by Goldberg about the incident and noted in response that she herself had engaged in reparative therapy.[14]

In November 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against JONAH, Goldberg, and Downing on behalf of Unger, Levin, two other participants, and two of the participants' mothers for fraudulent practices which are illegal under New Jersey's consumer protection laws.[15] The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted that the lawsuit is "groundbreaking" insofar as it is "the first time a conversion therapy provider has been sued for fraudulent business practices."[16] In 2014 Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso ruled that JONAH and its co-defendants could have to pay three times the cost paid by the participants for therapy they said they needed because of JONAH's conversion therapy.[17]

On November 29, 2012, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America issued a statement clarifying that "based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH," the organization did not meet their standards, and thus clarified that they could not endorse JONAH's methods.[18]

In February 2015, Hudson County, New Jersey superior court judge Peter Bariso Jr ruled that JONAH's claims of gay conversion therapy that describe homosexuality as a curable mental disorder were illegal based on the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. Bariso also said it’s fraudulent to offer “success statistics” because “there is no factual basis for calculating such statistics”.

“This is the principal lie the conversion therapy industry uses throughout the country to peddle its quackery to vulnerable clients,” David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said of homosexuality being described as a mental disorder. “Gay people don’t need to be cured, and we are thrilled that the court has recognized this.” Bariso also ruled that Jonah could not call on proponents to testify that homosexuality is an illness.[19]

On June 25, 2015 a jury of seven voted unanimously to convict JONAH under the Consumer Fraud Act of New Jersey. The jury also found that JONAH's practices were unconscionable business practices.[20] The verdict required JONAH and Downing to refund thousands of dollars paid by former clients.[21]

On December 18, 2015, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. granted a permanent injunction after an agreement by both parties requiring JONAH to shut down entirely and prohibiting founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing from engaging in any form of conversion therapy commerce in New Jersey. The jury in the case found unanimously on June 25 that by offering services it claimed could turn gay people straight, JONAH committed consumer fraud and engaged in unconscionable commercial practices. Under the agreed to injunction and settlement, the defendants will pay the full $72,400 in damages awarded by the jury to compensate the plaintiffs for the fees they paid to JONAH and for remedial mental health counseling for one plaintiff. The proposed judgment includes a $3.5 million award of legal fees. The plaintiffs agreed to accept an undisclosed portion of that award, but the defendants will be liable for the full amount if they violate the agreement. JONAH is required to shut down all of its operations within 30 days after the order is entered, and its websites and online listservs must be removed. JONAH also will have to liquidate its assets and permanently dissolve as a corporate entity within six months. As part of the settlement, JONAH will not appeal the jury verdict.

In a seminal pre-trial ruling on Feb. 5, 2015, Judge Bariso excluded several leading conversion therapy proponents, including Joseph Nicolosi and Christopher Doyle, from testifying as defense experts. Ruling that their opinions were based on the false premise that homosexuality is a disorder, Bariso wrote that “the theory that homosexuality is a disorder is not novel but – like the notion that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it – instead is outdated and refuted.”

Testimony at the trial revealed the JONAH program’s bizarre and abusive techniques, which included instructing men to undress and instructing one plaintiff to touch his genitals in a private counseling session. JONAH orchestrated violent role-play exercises, encouraging clients to beat effigies of their mothers, who were sometimes blamed for their sons’ homosexuality. Male counselors advocated “healthy touch” sessions that included prolonged cuddling. JONAH’s tactics alienated some clients from their families and caused them to blame themselves or family members for their sexual orientation.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "JONAH's History". JONAH. Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2011-06-28. 
  2. ^ "Mission Statement". JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing. Archived from the original on 2015-09-13. 
  3. ^ R. L. Spitzer, "The diagnostic status of homosexuality in DSM-III: a reformulation of the issues", American Journal of Psychiatry 138 (1981): 210–15.
  4. ^ "An Instant Cure", Time; April 1, 1974.
  5. ^ "JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality". Jonahweb.org. Archived from the original on 2015-03-02. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  6. ^ Livio, Susan K. "Group claiming to turn gay men straight committed consumer fraud, N.J. jury says". NJ.com True Jersey. New Jersey On-Line LLC. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Gay conversion therapy group founder misled about success rate, lawyer says", NJ.com; June 8, 2015.
  8. ^ Goldberg, Arthur. Light in the Closet. Red Heifer Press, 2008, p. 13.
  9. ^ Ben Newman (2003). "Is Change Really Possible?". JONAH. Archived from the original on 2015-04-24. Retrieved 2011-06-28. 
  10. ^ Bill Hussung and Mishara Canino. "Interviewing an ExGay Therapist". Advocate.com. 
  11. ^ Cohen, Richard (2007-07-20). "Born gay? No way!". New Statesman. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  12. ^ Livio, Susan K. "Group claiming to turn gay men straight committed consumer fraud, N.J. jury says". NJ.com True Jersey. New Jersey On-Line LLC. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Steve Lipman (2010-07-27). "Controversy Over Therapy For 'Curing' Homosexuals". Jewish Week. Retrieved 2011-06-28. 
  14. ^ [1][dead link]
  15. ^ "N.J. Lawsuit Alleges JONAH Gay Conversion Therapy Fraud - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  16. ^ "SPLC files groundbreaking lawsuit accusing conversion therapy organization of fraud". splcenter.org. 
  17. ^ "Hudson judge allows gay conversion therapy lawsuit to continue". NJ.com. 
  18. ^ "Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)". Rabbis.org. 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  19. ^ "New Jersey judge rules 'gay conversion therapy' is consumer fraud". theguardian.com. 2015-02-15. Retrieved 2015-02-16. 
  20. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/26/nyregion/new-jersey-jury-says-group-selling-gay-cure-committed-fraud.html?_r=0
  21. ^ Livio, Susan K. "Group claiming to turn gay men straight committed consumer fraud, N.J. jury says". NJ.com True Jersey. New Jersey On-Line LLC. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 

External links[edit]