Government in hot Bible zone pounces on store for posting famous Scriptures

It may not get more ironic than this.

A store owner in the land where the Scriptures of the Holy Bible originated says he’s being persecuted by his local government for posting biblical verses from the Old Testament.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” from Deuteronomy 6:4 is the first verse that initially raised the eyebrows of city officials three years ago in Ramat Gan, Israel, located just east of Tel Aviv.

That’s where Amnon Goldis, a Jewish microbiologist and owner of a small wine shop called “Kosher Wine Or Ganuz,” posted the Scripture in response to LGBT pride flags appearing along Jerusalem Boulevard where his store sits.

In 2020, Goldis got both a phone call and a formal letter from the city saying he’d be fined if he didn’t yank down the sign forthwith.

JNS, the Jewish News Syndicate, reports 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.”

He actually made that verse from Deuteronomy a permanent fixture, essentially changing the name of his store to the biblical passage, famously known as the “Shema Yisrael.”

Goldis has since added new signs each year. In 2022, he posted “And the spirit of impurity I will cause to pass out of the land.” (Zechariah 13:2)

This year he actually combined Ezekiel 9:4 and Ezekiel 8:6, “that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof … even the great abominations that the house of Israel committeth here, that I should go far off from my sanctuary.”

To date, the shop owner has been fined more than $1,000, and television coverage of his dilemma has even prompted some lawmakers from the Israeli Knesset to visit him personally to offer moral support.

Goldis’ attorney Menashe Yardo says this is a free-speech issue, and his client has every right to protest the offensive gay-pride flags.

“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,” Yardo told JNS.

Yardo blasted the government for using a municipal bylaw to censor the wine vendor, as it requires a permit for any new sign. Even though Goldis applied for a permit, the city refused.

“Plurality of opinions is the cornerstone of the liberal and law-abiding society in the State of Israel,” Yardo said in a letter to city officials in June.

“Silencing opinions under the authority of a municipal bylaw is patently illegal.”

The attorney is reportedly urging the mayor to stop with the fines, warning of potential legal action otherwise.

“There’s an aggressive silencing of the Jewish voice in the public sphere,” Yardo noted.

The attorney told JNS a double standard has existed in Israel concerning politically left- and right-wing protests.

He explained how the anti-judicial reform protests successfully closed major highways for the past six months with little sign of enforcement, “but when the right wants to protest, then suddenly public order becomes sacrosanct. Every regulation is sacred, like with my client. The bylaws must be upheld. When the left protests, then it’s freedom of speech that’s sacred.”

The ultra-Orthodox seller of wine concurs.

“There is a real war on Judaism here, there is a silencing of voices,” Goldis said, telling JNS his opposition to the LGBT flags stems from his faith.

“First of all, it’s because I am a Jew.”

“The attitude of Jewish halachah [religious law] is certainly negative toward homosexuality. I think that to hang this flag in the State of Israel is disgraceful. I also don’t understand by what authority they put flags celebrating sexual deviance out on all the streets.”

“They [government officials] said there should be a connection between the contents of the sign and what’s in the store. Walk around Ramat Gan for a bit. You’ll see lots of signs that have nothing to do with the products the stores are selling. The city was just looking for a way to censure me.”

The town denies it’s motivated by anything other than evenly applying its signage laws.

“It should be noted that all the claims in your letter are untrue and unfounded. The municipality of Ramat Gan enforces the municipal by-laws in order to maintain public order and the well-being of the city’s residents and outside considerations aren’t involved,” said the city in its June 22 reply to Goldis’ attorney, which was supplied to JNS.

The White House hosts a Pride celebration, Saturday, June 10, 2023, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House photo by Carlos Fyfe)

The report notes a possible contradiction on that claim however, indicating: “The city has made clear it disapproves of the nature of Goldis’ signs. Perhaps stung by negative publicity after Knesset members Orit Strock and Michal Waldiger of the Religious Zionism Party visited Goldis’ wine shop last year, the city responded that the motives behind the hanging of the signs ‘don’t align with the wonderful values of Judaism’ and that Goldis was exploiting Jewish sources to ‘deepen hatred’ and ‘gain publicity’ in order to increase store sales. It described Goldis as a ‘contentious man’ willing to lie and manipulate ‘time and time again.'”

“How do they know? Can they read my mind?” Goldis asked JNS. “It’s chutzpah on their part to claim such a thing. My reasons are completely different. And sales have decreased for the last few years. People don’t want to enter a ‘war zone.’ There are problems now between me, the city and the gay population. They come in swearing. They spit.”

When asked how he’d like the dispute to end, Goldis 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.”

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