Law and Order SJU: Special Jerusalem Unit

Written by Katie

Two weeks ago, I saw my first live court case. The real version of Ally McBeal or Law and Order. I got to accompany two of IRAC’s lawyers Einat and Orly  to their case against the Jerusalem municipality on behalf of the Jerusalem Open House (JOH), a community center for the LGBT population of the city. They provide counseling services, rapid HIV/AIDS tests, leadership training, support groups and general services to the community regardless of religious background or nationality.

I’ve had many friends volunteer with them and use their services over my 2 years in the city and have heard very positive reviews. This Shabbat I had lunch with two dear Orthodox friends of mine who are new immigrants to Israel, have both volunteered to serve in the army and are both lesbians. They are extremely dedicated to human rights, feminism,  the state of Israel, and each other. I want them to be able to go to a community center that serves their needs just like any other Jerusalemite.

The Supreme court agrees with me and last year, after a 8 year court case, decided that the Jerusalem Open House is considered a full community center in every sense. In Israel community centers are heavily subsidized by the city and the court ruled that JOH should get equal funding from the municipality. That was a big victory for LGBT rights in Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, the municipality only ended up giving the Open House about a fourth of what it gives other community centers in Jerusalem. IRAC represented by Orly and Einat were bringing the case to court saying that the municipality was discriminating against the Open House in spite of the ruling of the Supreme Court and were asking for JOH to be fully funded.

The whole experience was fascinating for me. Lawyers in Israel wear the same black robes the judges do. While we were waiting for the judge to finish his previous case, the municipality’s lawyers were chatting very cordially with Orly and Einat. But entering the chambers was the biggest shock for me. We all stood up when the judge came in. The judge called the lawyers “sir” and “ma’am”. No one interrupted each other. The lawyers only stood when spoken to. It was a level of politeness I had not seen in this country.

The case itself was more frustrating. The municipality lawyers seemed to be arguing that the Open House is not a normal community center and doesn’t deserve full funding. This is in direct contradiction with the Supreme Court ruling. They also argued that because it serves a smaller population it doesn’t deserve equal funding. However, the Open House serves the entire LGBT community of the whole city which is potentially thousands of people. They also spoke about changing the criteria for funding community centers for next year. This is a ploy they have been using for years. If the criteria keep changing then magically  the Open House always seems to qualify for less money (if at all). As of now, we are waiting on a judgement from the judge of what amount of funding the Open House will receive for this year.

Rosh Hashana (which is coming up on Wednesday) is also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgement. I can only hope that there will be a fair judgement for the Open House that will give them the funding and equal rights they deserve. Shana tova.