JERUSALEM (JTA) — An American rabbinical student studying in Israel is suing a Jerusalem pizzeria for refusing to serve him due to his sexual orientation.
Sammy Kanter, who is studying at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College in Israel for the year, was wearing a gay pride T-shirt in early August, a day after the Jerusalem Pride March, when he and some friends entered the Ben Yehudah 2 pizzeria. The white T-shirt had rainbow letters that spelled out “Cincy,” his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Kanter wrote in a Facebook post the day that the incident occurred: “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 in with the shirt below, and the guy behind the counter said “Atah Homo (are you gay)?” I said yes. He said “out” and pointed at the door. My jaw dropped, and he instructed my classmates and I to leave.”
Refusing customers service because of their sexual orientation is illegal in Israel.
Kanter filed a lawsuit the following month, seeking damages of 33,500 shekels, or about $9,100, with the assistance of the Israel Religious Action Center, or IRAC, the social justice arm of the Reform movement in Israel.
“This is an important precedent for Jerusalem,” Rabbi Noa Sattath, IRAC director, told JTA. She said that the owner of the pizzeria is liable for the actions of his employee
The owner of the pizzeria initially told Israeli media that, if the incident occurred as Kanter had said, he would fire the employee. He later backpedaled, saying it was probably a misunderstanding as the employee was trying to close the shop and get it cleaned up before the start of Shabbat.
Sattath said the pizzeria owner refused to negotiate outside of court after being advised of the law.
“Sammy is not interested in the money for himself. He is interested in the precedent,” Sattath said. He has, in fact, suggested that any award be donated to Jerusalem organizations that support LGBT rights.
The case is scheduled to be heard in Jerusalem Small Claims Court on Jan. 31, 2019. Kanter will represent himself. He is scheduled to remain in Israel through the end of the school year.