For several years, a store owner in Ramat Gan, Israel has found himself under fire from his city’s government for opposing LGBTQ flags adorning the city’s thoroughfares, including in front of his shop, during the annual Pride Month celebration (June).
Facing thousands of shekels in fines, he and his attorney say he is the target of selective enforcement in a clash echoing a wider cultural war against religion in the Israeli public square.
Amnon Goldis, the owner of a small boutique wine shop, “Kosher Wine Or Ganuz,” felt compelled to act three years ago when gay pride flags appeared along Ramat Gan’s Jerusalem Boulevard, where his store is located. His protest took the form of banners he placed above his storefront. The first was simply the Jewish creed, “Shema Yisrael”: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”
But Ramat Gan, located just east of Tel Aviv, came down hard on Goldis. In 2020, he received a call and a letter from the municipality warning him to remove the sign immediately or face a fine. Goldis refused, telling radio station Kol BaRama at the time: “I made it clear to the municipality that I do not intend to take down the sign. They can issue fines, make committees—I am not taking down this sign.”
Goldis then made the Shema sign permanent, placing it where his store sign had been. Essentially, he changed the name of his store. Each year a new sign followed.
The city has fined Goldis over $1,000 so far, and his protest has garnered some attention. He has been on television, and his shop has been visited by Knesset members, who offered moral support.
His attorney, Menashe Yardo, couches the issue as one of free speech, arguing that the LGBTQ flags offend his client’s religious sensibilities and that he has every right to protest. “The Ramat Gan municipality covers the city in hundreds of LGBTQ flags, naturally provoking the conservative religious public. At the same time, it doesn’t allow them to express an opposing position,” he said.
Yardo also takes issue with the city’s methods, saying it’s cynically using a municipal bylaw to silence his client. The signage bylaw requires a permit for any new sign. He noted that his client even applied for a permit this year, but that the city didn’t provide it.
“Plurality of opinions is the cornerstone of the liberal and law-abiding society in the State of Israel,” Yardo said in a letter to the municipality last month. “Silencing opinions under the authority of a municipal bylaw is patently illegal.” He called on the mayor to stop fining his client, warning that they may seek compensation through the courts if the fines don’t cease.
Yardo, who works for Honenu, a Zionist legal aid society, said that the group mostly focuses on helping represent Israelis who run into legal trouble in connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but for “the last few years, Honenu finds itself more involved in internal cultural issues, combating phenomena as in this case, where there’s an aggressive silencing of the Jewish voice in the public sphere.”
Goldis shows no sign of giving in, and when asked by Zenger News how he would like the clash to end, he said, “Next year, to see not a single one of those rainbow flags; that they’ll all be taken down. In their place, they can put up another flag with a Star of David, or an image of the menorah, or the altar from the Temple, or a picture of a Torah scroll. Any of those would be fine. This is, after all, a Jewish state.”
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate
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