IRAC received a tremendous honor last Thursday: We were invited to carry the lead banner at the Jerusalem Pride march. The Jerusalem Pride march, while smaller than the one in Tel Aviv, is considered to be the most important one in the country. It is here, in Jerusalem, that we have been fighting for equality for Israel’s LGBT community for many years with some impressive successes.
IRAC is the premier civil rights organization in Israel fighting for equality in marriage. We were able to successfully win funding for the Jerusalem Open House, which is the city’s LGBT community center. We were able to convince the city to hang gay pride flags on the day of the march, and fought for freedom of speech and equality as the LGBT community was denied the permits to march in the streets of Jerusalem. We have also represented numerous individuals who have been discriminated against for their sexual orientation as part of our commitment to progressive Jewish values.
One of the major cases we are working on now involves a lesbian Israeli folk-dance instructor in Jerusalem. Her classes were very popular among religious women because she taught several classes that were for women only. Unfortunately, one rabbi decided that her classes were a danger to his flock.
When this neighborhood rabbi found out that there was a lesbian teaching in his neighborhood, he started a crusade against her. He posted signs around the area and told his followers that she poses a danger to the public, and, further, that anyone who learns in her studio was encouraging sin. Attendance to her classes dropped to nearly zero, so she had no choice but to stop teaching there.
Our client was devastated by the way this rabbi coerced the whole neighborhood to turn against her, and she wanted to fight back. IRAC agreed to take her case pro-bono and sued the rabbi for libel and invasion of privacy. This case started in 2008 and we are still seeking damages.
There are good laws to protect LGBT Israelis (and all Israelis) from having their livelihoods destroyed by this kind of hateful speech. The problem is many people are afraid to go against state-funded rabbis like the one who tried to ruin the dance instructor’s livelihood. IRAC is committed to continuing its work representing people who suffer discrimination, but it is an uphill battle.
We were honored that Jerusalem’s LGBT community chose to thank us last week for all we have done fighting for equality, but we know that there are many other cases that deserve their day in court. Please click here to donate to our special legal fund to represent victims of hate speech like our Jerusalem dance instructor.
Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center.