The Ben Yehuda 2 pizzeria in Jerusalem. Photo via Sammy Kanter/Facebook

Pizzeria ordered to pay $4,500 for booting gay rabbinical student

JERUSALEM (RNS) — An Israeli court ordered a Jerusalem pizzeria to pay $4,500 to an American rabbinical student who was ejected from its premises for being gay.

Last August, Sammy Kanter, who is studying at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, entered the Ben Yehuda 2 pizzeria wearing a T-shirt that bore rainbow colors.

“Today, for the first time in my life, I was denied service at a pizza store for being who I am (in Jerusalem),” Kanter wrote on Facebook. “I walked in … and the guy behind the counter said, Are you gay. I said yes. He said ‘out’ and pointed at the door. My jaw dropped, and he instructed my classmates and I to leave.”

Soon afterward Kanter filed a suit in Jerusalem Small Claims Court with guidance from the Israel Religious Action Center. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in Israel.

Although Israel is considered a bastion of LGBTQ rights in the Middle East, Kanter’s experience focused a harsh spotlight on the ongoing struggle of LGBTQ people to feel at home in Jerusalem, a religiously conservative city.

While Tel Aviv holds a weeklong Pride festival each year, culminating in a large parade in the heart of the city, the opposite is true of Jerusalem, where ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims comprise 70 percent of the city’s population.

In 2015 an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed to death 16-year-old Shira Banki as she participated in the Jerusalem Pride march; six others also were wounded.

Last year's Pride parade through the capital, which drew some 20,000 LGBTQ people and supporters, was guarded by 2,500 police officers.

Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, called the Kanter verdict an important one for Israeli society.

“Israel has an excellent anti-discrimination law but often, it’s a muscle that isn’t being used. If people don’t face the consequences of their bigotry they will continue to being bigots. Lawsuits like this make the muscle work and society is better for it,” Hoffman said.

A Wider Bridge, a North American LGBTQ organization building support for Israel and its LGBTQ community, said the court's decision is a “reminder that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in Israel, and that there are legal ramifications for homophobic actions. We applaud Sammy and the greater Israeli LGBTQ community for this important victory."