Israel-wide Strike Slated as Tech Firms Protest anti-LGBT Legislation

Firms vow to help workers fund procedure as labor federation comes out in favor of strike called by LGBT group

Ruti Levy
Lee Yaron
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Protesters demonstrating in Tel Aviv against gay discrimination in surrogacy law, on Wednesday.
Protesters in Tel Aviv demonstrating against gay discrimination in surrogacy law, on Wednesday. Credit: Tomer Applebaum
Ruti Levy
Lee Yaron

A day after the Knesset voted to exclude gay men from a law expanding Israel’s surrogacy rights, large swathes of Israeli business took the unusual step of entering the political fray and coming out forcefully for LGBT rights.

Over the course of the afternoon on Thursday support for a protest strike on Sunday on the issue spread rapidly, with dozens of major companies and Israel’s main labor federation announcing that they would join the strike called by the Aguda LGBT task force, to protest the amended law.

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The list of workers backing the strike included unions at Ben-Gurion International Airport, who warned that there would be flight delays on Sunday “after many Israel Airports Authority workers requested to absent themselves from work on Sunday due to the protest activities of the LGBT community.”

Meanwhile, two major tech companies, Mellanox and Microsoft Israel, vowed to help their employees fund surrogacy.

The Mellanox officers in Yokne’am.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Mellanox, which employs 2,055 people in Israel, on Thursday promised to give 60,000 shekels ($16,400) and a month’s maternity leave to any employee, male or female, irrespective of their sexual orientation, to fund surrogacy. The company said it opposed the amended surrogacy law because it discriminates against the LGBT community and hoped that the Knesset would change the law to make it fully equitable.

A day earlier Microsoft Israel, which has about 1,000 employees, vowed to give 60,000 shekels to any employee seeking to create a family through surrogacy.

“My heart is with each and every employee in their desire to create a family,” said Assaf Rappaport, CEO of the Microsoft research and development center in Israel, who spearheaded the move.

A year ago, another tech company, Tel Aviv-based Natural Intelligence, offered 50,000 shekels to any LGBT employee who undergoes a surrogacy procedure outside of Israel. The company, which is known for its activity on behalf of the gay community, employs 300 people in Israel.

Microsoft Israel, Mellanox, eBay Israel and Natural Intelligence have also agreed to join Sunday’s strike.

Other local tech companies and Israeli units of multinationals that agreed to give their employees the day off on Sunday to protest include Matrix, SAP, IBM, TowerJazz, 888, Fiverr, Minute Media, Webpals, Soluto, Cybereason, MyHeritage, Winward and Daka90. Together they employ thousands of people.

Outside the tech sector, food maker Strauss Group, apparel retailer Castro, Israel Post, the Haifa Port workers committee, supermarket chain Super-Sol and pharmacy chain Super-Pharm said they backed the strike.

Among other employers that announced that workers could take the day without deduction of a vacation day were Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, SodaStream International, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Partner Communications, Procter and Gamble, the Tel Aviv and Givatayim municipalities, and Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute.

The airline Israir also threw its support behind the protest, although it said it did not expect any disruptions in its flight schedule. It added that employees who did not want to strike could wear a black shirt to express support, instead of a company uniform.

The Israel Hotels Association, meanwhile, asked its members to allow employees who want to join the strike on Sunday. Two major hotel chains – Fattal and Dan – both announced they would support the strike.

For its part, however, Check Point Software Technologies said the company "has never expressed a position on public issues of this nature, on any subject, either for or against."

On Thursday the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Avi Nissenkorn, called on all employers to allow their workers to strike on Sunday in protest of the law. “The struggle for equal rights of the LGBT community is an important struggle for Israeli society,” he said, adding that the Histadrut opposed all forms of discrimination.

The Aguda task force noted that the strike on Sunday coincided with Tisha B’Av, a fast day marking the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, traditionally held to have been caused by “baseless hatred.”

“The strike is a protest against the baseless hatred of the ultra-Orthodox and conservative politicians against the LGBT community in Israel,” the group said. “We call on members of the community to be absent from work, to close their businesses and take part in public protests.”

Until now Israel’s surrogacy lLaw enabled only married couples to benefit from surrogacy services in Israel. The amendment passed on Wednesday allows single women who cannot conceive to opt for surrogacy as well -- but excludes same-sex couples and single men from having access to a surrogate.

Despite voicing public support for surrogacy for same-sex couples, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday voted against the amendment that would have given LGBT people access to surrogacy as well.

Government employees, other than staff at the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, who wish to strike on Sunday will need to take it as a vacation day, the state service commission has said. "We are not interfering in the content that an employee gives to his day off," the commission told Haaretz.

But government ministries said staff will be able to take the day as an optional floating holiday for which they will be paid despite their absence. Next Sunday is on the list of optional days off in any event because it is Tisha B'Av. Municipal government authorities said staff could also make use of the day as a floating holiday, but when Haaretz contacted national government ministries to ask if they would allow staff not to come to work, only the Labor Ministry said it would "welcome" it.

The Justice Ministry issued a letter from the Israel State Attorney Association stating that in accordance with Histadrut labor federation directives, "lawyers who belong to the LGBT community" who wish to participate in the protest events will be able to do so as a vacation day or floating holiday.

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