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Israel Society & Culture:
Homosexuality in Israel - Two Legal Challenges


Society & Culture: Table of Contents | Demographic Trends | Minority Communities


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Two major cases involved homosexuality. On Jan. 10, Tel Aviv District Court, acting as an IDF appeals committee, ordered the army to recognize Adir Steiner as the common-law spouse of the late Col. Doron Maisel and to grant him benefits as an IDF widower.

Maisel, who died of cancer in November 1991, had lived with Steiner since 1984. The two shared finances and their relationship was public knowledge. Steiner asked the army for the compensation it pays bereaved spouses and for recognition as Maisel’s spouse for memorial purposes. The army refused, saying that only heterosexual couples qualify.

Steiner’s attorney argued that the law does not rule out common-law spouses of the same sex and that the IDF’s position was discriminatory. The committee ruled that a woman in Steiner’s position would be eligible for the benefits—as the law applies to both married and common-law spouses—and that he was being denied them merely because he is male. The committee accepted the appellant’s claim that the law applies equally to relations between members of the same sex. The IDF appealed to Jerusalem District Court, claiming that the language of the law governing IDF pensions cannot be interpreted to entitle same-sex partners.

Steiner had filed two other petitions as well. In early February, in response to one of them—filed with the High Court of Justice in July 1996—Defense Minister Itzchak Mordechay announced that his ministry would recognize Steiner “as if he were a family member” in memorial matters. This status would allow him to attend and receive free transportation to memorial services, contribute to an entry in a memorial book, and receive a grant with which to memorialize Maisel. Steiner had argued that the benefits are given to live-in heterosexual partners and that, according to the Danilowitz precedent, homosexual partners are equally entitled to them. The Steiner decision was more far-reaching than the Danilowitz ruling, which dealt with a private contract; gay-rights activists expect the former to have ramifications for the entire public sector. In Steiner’s third suit, he sought recognition as the widower of a fallen soldier on the grounds that Maisel’s cancer was caused by exposure to the sun during his IDF service; in early 1998, Steiner was appealing a verdict in favor of the Defense Ministry.

The other case concerned Education Minister Zevulun Hammer’s decision to scuttle the broadcast of an Educational Television program on homosexual teenagers. On the program, part of ETV’s Open Cards series, homosexual teens and the mother of a homosexual boy told their stories to a teenage audience, followed by questions and comments from the audience. It was originally slated to be aired on Oct. 10, 1996. Hammer postponed it to Nov. 21, but on Nov. 20 said he was postponing it again in order to review it personally. No new date was set. In early January Hammer’s media advisor told the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women that Hammer was delaying the program because he considered its message inappropriate for an educational medium.

On Jan. 13, 1997, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), joined by the Lesbian Feminist Community and the Association for the Protection of Individual Rights of Homosexuals, Lesbians, and Bisexuals in Israel, petitioned the High Court to overturn Hammer’s decision. ACRI argued that the Education Minister has no authority to interfere with ETV programming. Furthermore, alleged the petitioners, Hammer’s decision violated freedom of expression. They asserted that one-third of teen suicides are related to homosexuality; the program was extremely important, because it shows homosexual teenagers that they are not alone and gives heterosexual teens a better understanding of their homosexual peers.

There were two main issues: Did the program present homosexuality in a one-sided manner that encouraged teens to try it themselves? Was the program appropriate for an educational series? Hammer contended that the program was definitely one-sided. He supported his view with the opinions of experts who asserted that it lacked balance, ignored social values, and encouraged homosexual experimentation. According to these experts, the program should be made more balanced and should be moved to a non-educational television channel. The petitioners submitted the opposing opinions of other experts.

On Sept. 21, the High Court ordered Hammer to permit the program to be aired. In his decision, Justice Ya’akov Kedmi wrote that homosexuality per se is no longer a “deviation” to be fought. As for the argument that the program did not belong on an educational television station, Kedmi wrote that “education” is a broad concept and therefore the program qualifies as educational. He agreed that it was not balanced but insisted that this flaw did not make it “anti-educational.” Although the justices ruled that Hammer could not prevent the broadcast, they said that opponents could express their opinion in a “complementary” discussion at the end of the program.


Sources: Israel Yearbook & Almanac 1998, pp. 257258.

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