The High Court of Justice handed Israel’s gay community a major victory this week, ruling that a company must extend the same benefits to gay couples that it does to heterosexual couples.
In the landmark 50-page decision, the court ordered EI Al Airlines to grant the partner of steward Jonathan Danilovitz an annual free ticket and other benefits the company already extends to heterosexual couples.
The ruling brought to an end a five-year legal journey that wound through Israel’s court system, reaching the High Court after El Al appealed a labor court ruling in favor of Danilovitz, a native South African.
The decision was based on an amendment to Israel’s basic law for equal rights in the workplace, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The High Court ruling drew the ire of Israel’s fervently religious political parties.
Knesset member Shlomo Benizri of the Shas Party said his party views the decision as a challenge to the sacred values of Judaism. He added that his party was planning to take steps in the wake of the ruling, but declined to specify what they would be.
Gay rights activists hailed the decision, saying it would have far-reaching implications for Israeli society, which is regarded as conservative when it comes to homosexuality.
“I feel this is a major breakthrough on several levels. One of the justices explicitly said the decision is based not only on the law itself, but on the principle of equality of all human beings,” said Amit Kama, the executive director of the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights.
“I believe that as long as our laws and court decisions are tolerant and liberal and pro-gay, then more and more people and heterosexuals will get rid of homophobia. Homosexuals and lesbians will feel more comfortable to come out in the workplace, to be open about themselves,” said Kama.
The ruling held personal significance for Kama. He and his partner, a full-time professor at Tel Aviv University, have sued the school to grant Kama the social benefits given spouses of university employees.
It could also affect the case of Adir Steiner, who has unsuccessfully sought pension rights from the army after the death two years ago of his spouse, the late chief army medical officer, Col. Doron Meisel.