A Jerusalem pizzeria is in legal trouble after allegedly discriminating against a gay customer.
Sammy Kanter, 31, was wearing an LGBTQ Pride t-shirt when he entered Ben Yehuda Pizza on August 3, the day after Jerusalem Pride. Almost immediately, Kanter says, an employee asked if he was gay. When he said he was, Kanter claims the staffer asked him and his friends to leave.
“The guy behind the counter said ‘Atah homo?’ (are you gay)?” Kanter, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, wrote in a Facebook post. “I said yes. He said ‘out’ and pointed at the door. My jaw dropped, and he instructed my classmates and I to leave.”
Kanter added that “I couldn’t believe that I was being discriminated against in the place that I was always led to believe was a homeland for all Jews.”
Today, for the first time in my life, I was denied service at a pizza store for being who I am (in Jerusalem). I walked…
Israeli law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and sexual orientation. In a lawsuit against the restaurant Kanter is asking for 50,000 shekels (about $13,600) in damages.
A manager at the Jerusalem pizzeria said the employee in question had his wages docked and is not working at the cafe while the incident is investigated. “He is just [one] guy who said something,” Chef Sasi Vargas told the Jerusalem Post. But Vargas later claimed Kanter’s group was told to leave because it was 5:30pm on a Friday and the pizzeria was closed. (But a Facebook post about the incident from Kanter’s friend was time-stamped 5:14 p.m.)
“I want to make sure that… this doesn’t happen to other people,” said Kanter. “Also, I think it’s important to get the word out to Israeli society and to the American Jewish media to let them know that Israel has a lot of issues with the LGBTQ population.”
While LGBTQ people are largely accepted in Israel, there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships and the government recently denied a gay people the right to have children via surrogate, sparking nationwide protests. Jerusalem’s vocal religious community makes it less inclusive than other cities. There is only one small gay bar in town, and a violent attack on Jerusalem Pride in 2015 resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl. Ben Yehuda Street is a major shopping and dining thoroughfare in Jerusalem that is closed to vehicular traffic.
“While for the most part I feel fine in Jerusalem, it does worry me that myself, and especially many Israelis, don’t feel supported and don’t feel like they’re welcome here for being LGBTQ,” added Kanter, “and I think it’s a huge issue.”
Incidents like these aren’t limited to the Holy Land, though: A lawsuit filed in New York this month claims four trans women and a gender-nonconforming individual were denied service at a Texas Chicken and Burgers in Harlem because of their gender identities.