Israeli LGBT pioneer Jonathan Danilowitz dies at 77

Danilowitz sued El Al in 1989 in the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court to receive an airline ticket for his longtime partner.

 Jonathan Danilowitz, an El Al in-flight manager who won a landmark legal battle against the national airline to recognize his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse, died in his home at Protea Hills near Jerusalem at 77 on Thursday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (photo credit: COURTESY JONATHAN DANILOWITZ)
Jonathan Danilowitz, an El Al in-flight manager who won a landmark legal battle against the national airline to recognize his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse, died in his home at Protea Hills near Jerusalem at 77 on Thursday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
(photo credit: COURTESY JONATHAN DANILOWITZ)

Jonathan Danilowitz, an El Al in-flight manager who won a landmark legal battle against the national airline to recognize his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse, died in his home at Protea Hills retirement community near Jerusalem at the age of 77 on Thursday, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

A former chairman of The Aguda–Israel’s LGBT Task Force, the South African-born Danilowitz was awarded Tel Aviv’s Yakir Ha’ir in 2020 in recognition of his struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

"The importance of equality and a workplace comfortable for all types of workers was strengthened by the Israeli Supreme Court and National Labor Court judgments, which are till today a guiding light to me and others around the world." 

Former National Labor Court President Steve Adler

After making aliyah in 1971 from Krugersdorp, where he was born, he began working as a flight attendant for El Al.

As recounted in a recent article by former National Labor Court president Steve Adler in The Jerusalem Report, Danilowitz sued the airline in 1989 in the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court to receive an airline ticket for his longtime partner.

His suit was based on El Al’s agreement with the Histadrut labor federation that entitled employees to two free tickets a year, one for the worker and one for his or her “spouse.”

 Jonathan Danilowitz on a hike with Steve Adlerin 2022.  (credit: COURTESY JONATHAN DANILOWITZ) Jonathan Danilowitz on a hike with Steve Adlerin 2022. (credit: COURTESY JONATHAN DANILOWITZ)

El Al’s policy was that a “spouse” could only be a partner of the opposite sex.

One of the most publicized civil-rights cases in Israeli history, Danilowitz’s legal action ultimately reached the Supreme Court in 1995.

The court concurred with a 1992 National Labor Court ruling against El Al, saying the national airline’s discrimination against Danilowitz and his partner was illegal and obliging it to grant equal benefits to LGBT partners.

Considered one of the court’s most important rulings, it is featured in the Supreme Court Museum in Jerusalem.

“The importance of quality and a workplace comfortable for all types of workers was strengthened by the Israeli Supreme Court and National Labor Court judgments, which are till today a guiding light to me and others around the world,” Adler wrote.

Retirement and authorship

"Deep down inside I harbor a chip of pride that I played a small role in the way the world views homosexuality. 'Gay Pride.' I savor the true meaning of those words."

Jonathan Danilowitz

After separating from his partner in Tel Aviv, Danilowitz retired to a retirement village in the Shoresh Green Hills, where he befriended Adler and his wife, who moved there in 2019.

“He was unaware that I sat in his case, but since then we have spoken on the radio and in public about it,” Adler wrote. “He was a good soul and a lovely person.”

“Deep down inside I harbor a chip of pride that I played a small role in the way the world views homosexuality,” Danilowitz concluded in his 2012 autobiography, Flying Colors. “‘Gay Pride.’ I savor the true meaning of those words.”