BEN ROSEN, friend of rabbinical student Sammy Kanter, posted on the Secret Jerusalem Facebook page on Friday at 5:14 p.m. after the incident occurred, urging people in Jerusalem to boycott the pizzeria for discrimination..
(photo credit: BEN ROSEN)
A Jerusalem pizzeria faces up to NIS 50,000 in damages in a lawsuit being brought against one of its employees for discrimination against a gay man.
Upon entering Ben Yehuda Pizza with a group of friends on August 3, Sammy Kanter, 31, who was wearing a Pride T-shirt, was approached by an employee who asked if he was gay. After affirming that he was, the employee quickly asked Kanter and his friends to leave the restaurant.
Kanter, a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College originally from Cincinnati, said he was initially shocked at the discrimination.
“We’re here in Israel because our school believes, as do I, that it’s extremely important that we have a close relationship with Israel as we become future rabbis. 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,” he said.
In response to the incident, Kanter contacted the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) for assistance, and filed a lawsuit seeking NIS 50,000 in damages.
Orly Erez Likhovski, director of IRAC’s legal department and Kanter’s attorney, said Israeli law forbids discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or sexual orientation.
“The law is very clear on this,” he said. “If you do discriminate, you have to pay damages.”
Ben Yehuda Pizza’s manager declined multiple requests for comment.
Chef Sasi Vargas said the employee’s wages were docked, and he is not currently employed as the restaurant investigates the incident.
“He is just [one] guy who said something,” said Vargas, emphasizing that service is the priority of the restaurant.
Kanter said terminating the employee was a step in the right direction, but is moving forward with the case to bring awareness to the discrimination LGBT people face in Israel.
“In light of all the recent laws and things being passed in Israel,
I think it is directly in line with when, a week earlier, people marched in Tel Aviv for equal rights,” he said. “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, and I think it’s a huge issue,” he said.
Vargas later commented that Kanter was, in fact, not discriminated against for being gay, but that the group tried to eat at the restaurant after hours on a Friday. The eatery closes at 5 p.m., and Vargas said the group came there at 5:30 p.m.
But Kanter’s friend, Ben Rosen, wrote a Facebook post in the Secret Jerusalem group urging a boycott of the pizzeria timestamped 5:14 p.m.
The post has since garnered more than 1,500 ‘likes,’ and hundreds more comments and shares.
“My friend was refused service because of who he is,” Rosen wrote. “I am appalled by this blatant homophobia, and I hope that you all will join me in boycotting this despicable establishment.”
Kanter said he has received overwhelming support online, and wants to use his experience to show Israelis and Americans the reality of what he views as “two different Israels” – one similar to Tel Aviv’s community that is very open and accepting, and the other that he experienced earlier this month at the restaurant.
“I want to make sure that… this doesn’t happen to other people,” he said. “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.”