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Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said yesterday that the National Insurance Institute must pay survivor benefits to same-sex partners.

Mazuz issued the instruction in response to a lawsuit filed by Giora Raz in the Tel Aviv Labor Court against the NII. Raz petitioned the court to recognize him as a widower entitled to survivor's benefits following the death of his partner.

Mazuz's statements will have a widespread effect on the payment of a host of benefits awarded to couples, including work accident insurance, child birth allowances and disability pensions, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said yesterday.

While Mazuz's instruction to the NII is significant, since it is binding, it is not the first time he has expressed support for the rights of same-sex couples. After the Nazareth District Court ruled in November that a man could inherit his deceased partner's apartment, Mazuz announced that the state would not contest the decision, and must allow same-sex couples the same economic rights as heterosexual couples.

Raz and his partner, Yaakov Lisboder, lived together for 23 years. In 2002, Lisboder was diagnosed with cancer, and had to give up his job at El Al Israel Airlines due to treatments.

Raz also left his job to devote himself to his partner's care. Since Lisboder's death in 2002, Raz has been living on his state-run retirement benefits of NIS 1,300 a month.

The NII refused Raz's demand to award him survivor's benefits, since the NII says Raz does not qualify as a widow according to the the institute's law, which refers to "widows," "widowers" and other gender-specific terms in Hebrew.

"The situation by which NII survivor benefits are withheld only because a couple chose to live in a same-sex framework cannot be justified," the director of the labor disputes department at the State Prosecutor's Office, Nurit Altstein, wrote for Mazuz. "The NII law is meant to realize the ideal of justice, equality and mutual aid, and expresses the concern of the state for all its citizens. Any interpretation given to the letter of the law, therefore, must meet the above-mentioned tests," Altstein wrote.

"We are glad to awaken to a day in which the attorney general gives recognition to the fact that same-sex couples are part of the reality of Israel in 2005," the Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexuals and Transgenders in Israel said in response to the attorney general's instruction.